Last week I wrote about the prevalence of depression in the students I work with and know of and how I want to try something different to help them. I am asking advice as I go forward because I know that the answers are bigger than I can imagine. I received this email and have obtained permission to publish it hear anonymously. I have stripped a couple of pieces out to keep anonymity, and I think later this week I will share some personal experiences I have with depression. This is the story of a real person, and I believe something that should guide me and others like me who seek to make a difference.
First, I would like to say that I think an attempt at facilitating awareness of depression and its many causes is a wonderful idea and despite what I may say to the contrary I think any step you take is a step in the right direction.
A little background on me, I am born and raised in Oklahoma to Christian parents who are still married after nearly 34 years. I married at the age of 20 and have since had 2 daughters. While my parents were raised in Christian households and met through church, my parents stopped taking me and my only sibling to church before I started grade school. I have, what I readily admit, is an unfair bias against youth ministry based on my own experiences. Perhaps you can profile me? I was the girl who was sort of friends with someone already relatively vocal and established in his/her youth group that would be a good “fit”. I was a straight A student who never got into any trouble but since we weren’t members of a local church many in the youth ministry assumed I did not know the story of Jesus Christ. I say good “fit” because I married someone who, while raised Catholic and went to Mass every Sunday, was actually DISCOURAGED from coming to a mutual friend’s youth group while I was encouraged. I would say this is because he was wearing a Marilyn Manson t-shirt or some such, but I do not actually know what they were thinking or why they chose me instead of him. I am telling you this so you can see where I come from when I get to my actual story 🙂 I can honestly say (of course this is as an adult) that if I even suspected those youth ministers cared about their charges the way you do, I might have an unnatural bias FOR youth ministers.
I do not know when and where my depression started. After counseling and drug therapy, I do know it was not any specific event. This is important to establish, because for some people it is a specific event or series of events in their home life that causes periods of depression and suicidal tendencies. I think your ministry in facilitating an open dialogue with these adolescents about how they feel and how to manage is wonderful. If they are willing to talk and identify as depressed then they absolutely need an outreach. Wanting to talk is probably the first step. I want to emphasize that I was not this teenager. I never told ANYONE about my feelings or what I was thinking until I began dating my now husband. My parents are very supportive people, but mental illness is something every family tries to pretend doesn’t affect them. (obviously my opinion) I routinely attempted to divert the pain by causing other pain to myself. I never cut the skin very deep and sometimes not at all. When I would be driving I would try to think of ways to cause an accident without hurting anyone else. Some days, I even wanted to die. Even after I met my husband and told him everything, there were days when I wished I would die because this unknowable pain, this pain that was in my head that made no sense whatsoever, was so taxing and so burdensome I just wanted it to end even though he made me happy and I had a completely “happy” life. This is where the faith many assumed I didn’t have would always come in. I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit and knew this wasn’t supposed to be how my life ended, unfortunately it was not until I was 20 that I sought the tools needed to harness this pain. My husband and I married in August of 2002. My life spiraled out of control. I would rage and cry and scream and have no idea why. I wouldn’t get out of bed at all some days. I hated college and had no idea what I was doing there but feared my parents reaction if I dropped out. I stopped going to classes completely even though I was passing all of them with flying colors. I gained even more weight than I had put on after high school and became even more depressed. One day, I don’t know which day, I told my husband, I give up I don’t know what to do. I was having panic attacks regularly and could no longer leave the house. One day when we were visiting my family I had yet another panic attack. They called the doctor who is a friend of my dad’s and he said for me to come in right away. I saw his PA at the time who was the first person who offered me hope. I told her I felt worthless, horrible and always felt there was a huge weight on my heart and my head and it was killing me. They gave me antidepressants and strongly recommended I seek counseling. I cannot tell my story without stressing this to the nth degree. ANYONE SUFFERING FROM A MENTAL ILLNESS MUST SEEK PROFESSIONAL COUNSELING! I went to a local christian counseling center with all the foreboding and bias you would assume someone in my position would. This person was literally the God send I was looking for and I hurt for people who do not find counselors like this, because I know they can be a dime a dozen sometimes. Although he was not a Psychologist he possessed a Masters in Divinity and was completely open and honest about what that meant and assured me he was not there to tell me “God will fix it honey, you just need more faith.” He gave me tools to combat the painful feelings and helped me realize that I have a bit of a perfection complex (not uncommon in people with clinical depression as I am sure you know). We had many sessions and he still to this day encourages me to take antidepressants which I admittedly do not do at this point. I discovered that while in my teens I suffered from depression, mine was made worse by the birth control methods I employed after getting married. I also, of course, suffered from horrible pregnancy depression and postpartum depression after the birth of my first daughter. Depression obviously is an ongoing crash course of suffering even for those like me. There are many days even now where I think, my kids and husband don’t need this, they don’t need me. Of course the most crippling thing of all as an adult with depression who has children is that my kids will one day feel this excruciating pain as well. I told my husband that I would not describe my depression as darkness like many do. To me it is a never ending maze with the sun shining brightly on you,(suggesting there is happiness all over) but when you take a wrong turn you get lost and listless and you don’t know how to go back and there is no end, because you do not know what you are searching for to be the end anyway and sometimes you don’t even know you made the wrong turn until you have made so many you don’t know where you are anymore. Of course life is not a maze, no one is boxed in like this, everyone has light and dark. I don’t have a happy ending, depression is something I will always struggle with, but I find I am happy to tell my story and tell anyone that thinks like I do, you are not alone, you are not worthless and you are loved by the only ‘person’ that matters, of course it helps to have someone you can see and touch love you back 🙂 So I am writing this to you to say Thank You for telling me my feelings matter and I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but make sure this message gets sent even to the kids who don’t want to hear it. If you had told 17 year old me “hey, you matter, you mean something” I wouldn’t have heard a word of it. Encourage kids who are suffering from life induced so to speak depression to talk if this opens them up and helps the healing process,but my honest advice is tell every child that comes to your ministry that there is something they can do, and they matter, not just to God but to you. Even as an adult it is difficult to grasp God’s love when you are suffering, it helps to have someone say it to your face. Helplessness and worthlessness were a big part of my depression, that horrible pain seems to feed exclusively on those feelings. I think Helen had a great idea about making them matter by encouraging them to do things even little things, but not something to embarrass them or call them out in front of everyone, I was never seeking attention just worthiness. Remember that girl/guy you see at youth group who never has a lot to say, never gets too close, might need this message more than those who seek it. I would have been too intimidated to come forward. Just look at how I approached you about addressing this delicate subject? I have no idea if this is helpful at all or if my story is everyone’s story in your line of work, I just felt like it would be unfair to have you as you often do ask us complete strangers for guidance, insight or wisdom to not say anything when I personally have been so rocked by my depression diagnosis. I certainly am not an authority at any of this, and I lack a big indicator of severe clinical depression; suicidal tendencies. I have never actively tried to take my own life. I know family members and classmates who have done so, but none that I was close enough to to know their suffering, but I do think it’s important to know the many faces of clinical depression.