In answer to my recent question, Whitney Hachinsky is here to share from her heart and her experience. Whitney and I had each other’s backs during that magical, life-threatening time called high school. I still remember kind words Whitney spoke to me when we were fourteen. Sixteen years later, they’re still with me, proving that words can be gifts that keep on giving. Let’s learn from her now! – Christen
Eradicating A Societal Stigma: Offering Hope Amidst Depression & Anxiety
depression: a pressing down; lowering; a state of feeling sad; dejection; anger; a psychoneurotic or psychotic disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping; hopelessness; sometimes suicidal tendencies.
anxiety: an apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness; an abnormal and overwhelming sense of fear; doubt concerning the reality of a threat; self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it; mentally distressing concern or interest.
If you search the Merriam-Webster dictionary for the words “depression” and “anxiety,” the aforementioned explanations will follow. When one is troubled, weighed down, disquieted, and cheerless, it is simultaneously pitiful and lonely. Furthermore, it is oftentimes a brutal, debilitating double-edged sword because one feels incredibly low while also harboring guilt, shame, and embarrassment over their mental and emotional state. It is difficult to conjure the courage and bravery to speak about the truth of mental illness, particularly in a culture and society that attaches such enormous negative stigmas to the concept of being “mentally ill.” Even within the Christian church, it is frightening and challenging to discuss clinical depression and anxiety because they are so easily misunderstood, and one simply cannot relate unless they have also walked the dark and isolating path.
In contemplating our words and their power to bring life or death, how exactly does one approach someone who is battling depression and anxiety? How does one offer encouragement and support when the sufferer is so unreachable and despondent? Do words even help?
Admittedly, I have struggled for years with depression and anxiety. There are times when my illness is less noticeable and powerful, but there are also periods of immense grief and darkness. If I’m truly honest with people (and myself), I have never really known life aside from depression and anxiety. It somehow feels coded into my family history, my genes, and I can look back on numerous periods and experiences of my life through adult eyes now readily recognizing and admitting I was struggling against an unknown enemy.
My first diagnosis was given to me six weeks postpartum, following the birth of my son. It was horrifying. I felt trapped in a pit of despair and fear. I thankfully never entertained thoughts of harming my baby, but I could not escape the sense of wanting out, to simply escape life and be done with pain and hardship. I felt I was lost at sea, bobbing up and down amongst waves threatening to take me under, and oftentimes ready to surrender to drowning. I didn’t want to be alive. One moment, I couldn’t stop myself from crying or screaming, and the next moment I found myself numbly lying in bed, a mere shell of myself. My lowest point arose when I realized I was thinking about how many pills it would require to fall asleep forever, to quietly and effortlessly drift away. And I felt ashamed. I felt horrified. I felt tragically hopeless and guilty. I didn’t want to admit I was struggling because I worried they’d lock me up, take away my baby, deem me an unfit mother . . . you name an irrational fear, and I had it racing through my mind.
I prayed God would grant me bravery, and I eventually did make an appointment with my physician. As I sat in the waiting room filling out a form related to postpartum depression, I was sobbing—ever aware of the people staring and increasingly certain that this sickness was both beyond my control and very, very advanced. I couldn’t shake the sensation that something was wrong with me, and I was terrified.
I felt so alone. Everywhere I turned, people were talking about the joys of a newborn, the sweet smell of their innocent heads, the happiness of becoming a mother, and how sweet it was to cuddle their infant babe. I wanted nothing to do with my son. Holding him made me angry and guilty. Looking in the mirror, I hated myself. I had endured a very difficult labor that resulted in a c-section, and there was no one who could relate or speak truth to me. I was alone in my experience and suffering. I regretted everything and loved nothing, especially myself. I. Hated. Myself.
Around the time my son turned four-months-old, I noticed improvements. Medication and counseling—only truly effective when coupled together—had been God’s means of providing relief and healing, though I never stop remembering that true healing and restoration for me will only come in Heaven. Depression and anxiety remain constant struggles and companions for me. They rear their ugly heads at times when I expect and other times when they surprise me, but rest assured they are never welcome.
I know now that I am better with medication. I still see a counselor when I sense myself reaching a precipice where I will either fall into the pit or remain afloat. There are days I cannot breathe or function, days I feel I’m forever treading water and simply surviving. There are days I despise myself and my circumstances. There are days I cannot concentrate or stop crying. There are days when everything feels great.
Depression and anxiety are illnesses as much as cancer is a sickness. You cannot control it, predict it, or fight it alone. It’s interesting how little discussion arises regarding mental illness. There are walks and fundraisers for plenty of diseases, but for some reason when you mention depression, people immediately assume “craziness.” If one could simply choose joy and have more faith, all would be well. It’s as if we’re suffering from mental illness because we are weak and lacking faith.
Here’s the truth: I am a Christian. Jesus Christ is my LORD and Savior. I believe wholeheartedly in the message of the Gospel, and I walk in relationship with Him. I also have depression and anxiety. I take medicine and go to counseling because it helps. It doesn’t cure it, but it helps. My hope is in Him. I rejoice in Him. I am thankful to Him. But I also suffer from something I cannot help or control. I have an illness that only partly defines who I am and how I live my life. If I could simply have more faith, pray more, or choose happiness, don’t you think I would? In a heartbeat!
If someone breaks a bone, the physicians will reset it, cast, and wait for healing. If someone has cancer, no one questions the treatment of chemotherapy or radiation. If someone has a dangerous infection, antibiotics are always administered. Please understand that everyone has bouts of darkness in life, and all individuals will encounter struggle and hardship—Jesus promised as much for our time on earth. When you struggle with depression and anxiety, however, it is on another level. It is more intense, longer lasting, and is it lonely.
If we could stop treating the mentally ill like the guilty party, it would be tremendously beneficial. Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes silence and your presence is the best option. Don’t stop loving us. Write us notes and remind us we are loved. Tell us what we’re doing well (chances are, we’re doing an excellent job pointing out our flaws without assistance). Hug us. Hold us. Simply be there, so we don’t believe the lie we’re alone. Don’t take offense if we lash out or don’t respond. Don’t offer solutions or problem solve for us. Encourage, encourage, encourage.
If we could comprehend the human brain, we would be God. Science and medicine have made impressive strides, but we will never come close to understanding the intricacies of the human body, its processing, chemical components, and so forth. In the meantime . . .
“Unless the LORD had helped me, I would soon have settled in the silence of the grave. I cried out, ‘I am slipping!’ but your unfailing love, O LORD, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer” (Psalm 94:17-19 NLT).
“Watch the way you talk . . . Say only what helps, each word a gift” (Ephesians 4:29 MSG).