THE FIRST TIME
It was between the 7th and 8th grade that I had my first bout with depression. This was after my aunt who I was really close to died. It rocked my world. I didn’t understand how someone I who close with could be here one day and gone the next. How could God do something like that? Why did he take her away? What is this word we live in?
I was 12. I didn’t get it at all. It freaked me out.
I cried a lot. Even more, I’d stopped hanging out with my best friend.
It freaked my mom out too. She didn’t know how to handle it…or deal with it. And while she was grieving the death of my aunt, she had to show strength while simultaneously attempting to understand what her baby girl was going through.
Eventually, she called the doctor. He told her that if these symptoms continued for three months, she should seek treatment.
But she was ingenious. She encouraged me to hang out with my best friend. That started my turn around. Then when I went back to school, something clicked and I got better. Not immediately (I remember crying like my first day or week of school), but it was VERY short lived after going back.
While small symptoms followed me for several years (i.e. I couldn’t stand the thought of the death of someone close to me to the point that I would distance myself if they were dying), I was pretty much good.
In this case, God said all I needed were people around me to help me get through. He – and the people he surrounded me with – were all I needed.
IT CAME BACK
Then it came back. Winter break during my 3rd year of college. Something struck and anxiety hit hard. Really hard. I told my mom immediately what was happening. We had no clue it was going to get as bad as it got.
Over the next year and a half, I had consistent anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and several OCD symptoms (I washed my hands to the point that they were discolored and had fissures all over them), and couldn’t make basic decisions like what to wear. I had a hard time making it to class, I cried constantly – even in class, I missed social activities, my grades suffered. I went from a being on the Dean’s List (3.5+) every semester to below a 3.0 one semester. I even had to drop a class or I was going to fail.
I WAS ALSO LEARNING HOW TO BE A CHRISTIAN
During this same time, I was developing my relationship with God and was surrounded by several people who had an extreme heart for God. These people prayed for me, loved on me, checked on me…they were my rock. My family away from home.
But they also didn’t think I should see a therapist. In fact, I recall while one person was praying, she said “press, press.” All I wanted to do was press…and please God.
I listened. In fact, I was so afraid that if I saw a therapist, I would be wrong in God’s eyes. Shouldn’t he be enough? Wasn’t he enough? I mean, why should I have to see a therapist.
I prayed ALL the time. Daily. God, hear my prayer. Heal me please.
During this entire time, it got worse. I didn’t talk. I lost a ton of weight. I was SICK, literally, sick.
Finally, I started getting consistent treatment. My life turned around almost immediately.
Soon thereafter, I decided that I wanted to become a depression advocate. I NEVER wanted anyone to go through what I went through.
That’s why I’m so vocal about it. Until recently, 15 years after I started this second bout of depression, people didn’t talk about mental illness in the African American community. Medication and therapists was a stigma. That’s what “white people do.” And to this day, people are still ill-educated on how to approach a person who suffers from depression.
Message from my dad (in reference to my depression):
“God do[es] answer prayer. If you believe in your request. Trust God. God can solve any problems you face. If you truly believe and don’t doubt. Sometimes we have to ask God to help us with our unbelief. Love You. Very Much.”
What in all effs? No, seriously, what in all effs? How many times do we have to tell someone that you don’t just pray depression away. The same way you can’t pray high blood pressure away, you can’t pray cancer away, you can’t pray Parkinson’s away, you can’t pray ALS away, YOU CANNOT PRAY DEPRESSION AWAY.
Get off your effin high holy horse and listen…God will choose to heal the way he chooses to heal. If I could pray it away, it would be gone. I spent a good year and a half trying to pray it away. And I still pray about it!
I love my dad, but not enough to allow harmful words into my life. The good news is that once I told him that his words could be harmful, he stated that I’d have to tell him more.
To my dad – and all reading – here’s why telling someone to pray it away is dangerous:
- Clinical depression and anxiety are medical conditions. While most see depression manifesting itself in sadness, there are tons of mental and physical symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. These symptoms include: lethargy and fatigue, weird bodily sensations, a lack of focus, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, anger, aggression, irritability, the inability to sleep, sleeping too much, withdrawal from people and a decrease in appetite. <– If you are not a medical doctor trained to treat this disease, you should not be providing diagnoses or treatment instructions. THIS IS DANGEROUS.
- Like other diseases, clinical depression often results from a biochemical “malfunction” within the body. It’s believed that the body has hard time producing or receiving enough serotonin, the happy hormone, and that’s what’s leading to the depression and anxiety. To help balance this malfunction, SSRIs – medication meant to help restore balance – are given to those battling this disease. In a nutshell, you’re not “just” sad.
- People who are suffering from depression and anxiety may also be suicidal. If they do not get the proper treatment, they may try to kill themselves. And they may succeed. While suicide is never another person’s fault, your words have impact on whether or not the receive proper treatment.
- It is painful. You don’t feel an ounce of their pain so why do you get to tell them how to deal with it. I found myself chillin in my closet possibly in my laundry basket because it was comfortable. Well, who do you know that considers the darkest place they could find in the house comfortable. I wanted it all to go away. No one could make it go away. So I just hid. On the other hand, I was embarrassed for hiding.
- These people’s entire livelihoods suffer. As you can see, I wasn’t eating properly, I couldn’t focus to make the grade, I would miss class. It was awful.
- You put the blame on the one who’s suffering. When you tell someone that their faith isn’t strong enough, you are essentially telling them that they are doing something wrong; that’s why their not better.
- This adds another anxiety; something else they have to deal with. In addition to all the other anxieties they’re trying to work through, this is now something they have to fight and reconcile.
- You put false blame on God. Yes, God heals. But He chooses who He heals and when He wants to heal them. I firmly believe he had me go through all of this so that I could become a beacon for those who’ve lost hope. Those who are battling thoughts of “pray about it” and “why me.” I had no one who understood what I was going through. Why should others have to go through it alone?
- How dare you? Seriously. Who are you to tell someone – especially another adult – how to handle their care. And I would hope you loved your young ones enough to call a doctor. You are not in their bodies, don’t understand their symptoms, and have no insight into their prayer lives. This is one of the most presumptuous statements to make and positions to take.
- Your job is to support, not direct. The best things that you can do is continue to pray for them. Pray for yourself as well. Ask God to give you discernment on how to interact with them. Pray for personal strength because if you’re there in the trenches with them, it’s not going to be easy for you either. While you do this, learn as much as you can about the condition. Read about anxiety and depression. Ask your loved one about their symptoms and create a safe place for them to talk…or choose not to divulge anything. Encourage them to learn more about their condition. Pay attention to their symptoms. Get involved when you feel it’s appropriate. (Example: If they mention suicide or you feel suicide may be involved, get help). Take them to doctor’s appointments. Help them know their normal and it’s not weird. Be a shoulder to cry on. Encourage them to see a therapist. And let them know you support them and are there for them. Know they have a lot of triggers, and it’s not personal.
*According to WebMD, “There are many researchers who believe that an imbalance in serotonin levels may influence mood in a way that leads to depression. Possible problems include low brain cell production of serotonin, a lack of receptor sites able to receive the serotonin that is made, inability of serotonin to reach the receptor sites, or a shortage in tryptophan, the chemical from which serotonin is made. If any of these biochemical glitches occur, researchers believe it can lead to depression, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, panic, and even excess anger.” Find out more here.