I am sitting here composing this letter at 4:21AM having tried to sleep unsuccessfully.  I want to cry out to the world. I want to shout, scream, yell from the mountaintop, “Depression is wretched.” However, I can’t use the D word. The minute it leaves my lips people get this panic stricken look on their face clamoring for what to say.  You can see it cross their minds but you are called to be a pastor, how can you suffer from depression? I have been angry, sarcastic, bitter, furious, and now I just chuckle because the stigmas are so embedded into culture that fighting them or changing them seems impossible.
I have suffered from anxiety and depression since I was sixteen years old. I believe it may have begun earlier in life but my first recognizable shift in my behavior came at around sixteen years of age. I began acting out, trying to find some sort of gratification to combat the darkness I felt inside.
My depression became most severe in college. I turned to drinking excessively, smoking, and self-harm. From the summer before my freshman year it grew progressively worse.  By my junior year I began to feel suicidal and decided to seek help. Unfortunately the help I received did not lead to a proper diagnosis. I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder.  For years I was over-medicated and now have five years missing from my life because I was basically in a coma. My life went from bad to worse and after the death of my mother.
Finally I received proper medical care and was properly diagnosed with major depressive disorder coupled with an anxiety disorder. I also began to follow Jesus.  With counseling and proper medical treatment I was even able to come off my medications for a time. I was able to cope with the symptoms for a couple years before I had another major episode.  After I was married I saw the return of my depression.  What a wedding present right? Not.  My poor husband who does not struggle with mental illness was worried out of his mind. I took it out on him and tried to stuff it down because “good Christians” don’t get depressed.  I tried praying, reading scripture, listening to praise and worship. It got so bad that those who I am in relationship with who I consider spiritual mentors encouraged me to get help.  Finally after it got worse than it should have I broke down in the office of a trusted leader at my seminary and sought help. Bless the doctor I saw because while I was crying telling her I felt like a bad Christian she replied with a fiery don’t you dare put yourself down.  She went on to say that God gave the knowledge for doctors and medicine and that it didn’t make me a failure because I needed help. Bless her.
I am now taking anti-depressants and seeking out counseling. My depression has been an ebb and flow since my episode ten months ago.  The medication is helping but there are still adjustments that have to be made.  Recently I experienced another spike in my symptoms, which meant another medication adjustment. As I type this letter I am experiencing the grip of insomnia that comes with my disorder.
The hardest part is I suffer in silence.  My husband is here to be with me when the low lows come but he cannot relate. I cannot skip church in the morning to sleep because the awkwardness that would come from telling my mentoring pastor at the church I am currently serving as a mentored ministry student that I couldn’t come because I didn’t go to bed the night before.  I cannot say that the dark and twisty things called depression and anxiety held me hostage so that I could not rest.  I cannot be open about my depression because once you admit to having major depressive disorder your abilities come under intense scrutiny.
I would love to end the stigmas.  How amazing would it be if when asked how are you I could say well today I had to convince myself that self harm no matter how tempting is not the answer without someone’s eyes bulging out of their head. Perhaps being that transparent is not the answer but even saying today I am battling my depression gets the same cartoonish expression as if you just said I want to chop my arm off.
When I came to faith and began to truly follow Jesus I thought I would never see the return of my depression.  Now that it has returned I feel like it is my “dirty little secret” that if they new they would throw me to the wolves. Instead of the church being a safe place for those called to ministry to be open about their struggles we have projected the notion that those called must be perfect.  The church has done a great disservice to all those affected with mental illness. I dream of the day where churches can learn to embrace those suffering and even offer tangible help to those who struggle with so many types of mental health issues.
I couldn’t pray my depression away and trying to nearly lead to my undoing. I never dreamed I would compose a letter like this. I can only hope that someone will read it and know they are not a failure. God is near to the broken hearted.  What a beautiful promise found in scripture. This gives me such hope because I know that even when the twisty darkness attempts to take over there is a light within me that will not be overcome by the darkness. The light doesn’t always eradicate the darkness but scripture promises that darkness will not overcome it. Praise be to God for that great hope because even in my darkest hour I am not overcome.
By: Sara Beth Floyd
(Be sure to follow Sara Beth at https://sarabethfloyd.com)