I Will Boast of My Weakness3
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
I come from a long, not-talked-about history of mental illness. My mom struggled with severe depression since she was in her 20s and was not consistently medicated until I was close to 14 or 15. She grew up in a Christian home, but also around what I think of as traditional Southern American attitudes that said, when life gets you down, you should “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” “keep a stiff upper lip,” and “never air out your dirty laundry.” Deeply ingrained in her was the idea that being medicated for depression was a sign of weakness, so she fought it a long long time. “Jesus should be enough,” she would tell me. (Usually a sign she was about to go off her medication again.)
Though I hated to watch her struggle, I took those same attitudes to heart and also heard messages repeatedly from the church I grew up in that “if you truly love Jesus you should be joyful.” I distinctly remember thinking my mom was weak for her never-ending battle and wishing she would “just get it together.” Fatefully, my spiral into depression ended up looking very similar to hers.
I began struggling with severe depression myself in college and, at the same time, was involved in college ministry, learning and growing in my faith. For what felt like the first time I was hearing the message of total depravity – “I’ll never be good enough,” but also hearing messages that I should be filled with joy and love so much so that it would overflow into everyone around me. The problem was, my depressed brain wouldn’t process Grace at this point. In my mind, it was my fault. “Jesus should be enough! What’s wrong with me?! Why can’t I feel joy?!”
The guilt and shame shackled me for 2 years until one evening, the summer before my Junior year, I became legitimately suicidal. People have asked me what it felt like in that moment and all I can describe is a darkness. It was as though I was sinking lower and lower into a dark well, but always there had been some little scrap of light at the top when I looked up. That evening the light that had slowly become a pinprick in the far distance was snuffed out – I was encompassed by a heavy, oppressive, suffocating darkness. I loathed myself to a degree that I had never experienced before and (thankfully) never have felt since. I had a plan and knew what I had to do “to unburden everyone else of me.”
To this day I believe it was a miracle that saved my life. When I went to execute the plan, I literally couldn’t move my legs. I physically could not get out of bed. I cried myself to sleep that night, woke up the next morning able to move again, and went straight to my parents to say I needed help. I started medication soon after and have been stable on the same medication for 9 years now.
Years after I started medication, I still had enormous amounts of shame about my “weakness.” I reluctantly sought counseling when I was in graduate school, which did give me good insight into my negative thought patterns and helped me make peace with my relationship with my mother and some of the impact her depression had on my own thoughts. But, it wasn’t until 5 years ago that the Lord used the passage in 2 Corinthians to show me that my weakness was actually my strength – or rather, His strength through me. I had read the passage many times before, but something about it that time knocked me off my feet. It was as though the Lord took me in his arms and with a firm embrace and told me, “Don’t you get it? Don’t you see that it’s your weakest parts where I meet you? My redemption, my power, my grace is perfected and shows most brightly THERE! Who does it help for you to seem strong and together? Only you. Who do you love when you hide your weakness from others? Only yourself. I work through BROKEN vessels of mercy… it’s the cracks where my love overflows to others.” It was a turning point for me. My depression stopped pulling me inward, and became something that fueled me to love others.
As I’m writing this, I realize how difficult it is to sum up depression in a short blog post. It’s a story that goes on… it’s still being written. Depression is a battle that I fight every day. Some days harder than others. Medication is one weapon against it, but my community, my church, my friends and family, exercise, scripture, the Holy Spirit, prayer, the Gospel… The Lord has given me all of these things to wage war against not only the disease, but the sin it lends itself to. Other young women I’ve talked to who struggle with depression have asked me what medication did for me. It does not fix the problem, I’m quick to say. I explain the dark pit I had fallen into, alone, frightened, with a tiny pinprick of light at the top… going on medication was like striking a match in that pit. I looked around and realized that I was not actually alone. The light shown from that match onto countless faces around me that had been there the whole time; the darkness had blotted them all out of sight, but in reality the people I loved had been in that pit with me; I just couldn’t see them. But there they were, reaching out to me. And you know who else was in that pit with me the whole time? Jesus. And it was He who stood closest to me, who took my hand, and showed me the way out.
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)