I first realized that I had depression when I was 15. It grew bigger and bigger, and by the time I was about to turn 17 I was anorexic, cutting myself, and planning my suicide. How I went from being a normal high school girl to being mentally unstable is a long story. There was a cute boy, several mean girls, and a medication with side effects in fine print that I probably should have read more carefully - but those things don't really explain why this happened to me. I still don't understand why I suddenly became so overwhelmingly sad. The annoying thing about depression is that it doesn't have to have reasons. Sometimes it just shows up, wrecks you, and refuses to leave.
What ended up thwarting my plans to kill myself was a fortuitous phone chain. I spoke to someone I wasn’t very close to and said something that to them indicated that I was in danger of killing myself. That person called a person a little closer to me, who called a person a little closer to me, who called a person a little closer to me, and within 30 minutes my mom and dad knew.
I was promptly taken to a Christian therapist. A very bad Christian therapist.
I showed up for therapy suicidal, angry, closed off, sick with prolonged insomnia, and refusing to eat more than a hearty 300 calories a day.
After assessing me her suggestions were these: Pray, and go to church camp.
Neither of these suggestions seemed particularly helpful, but I was 16 and didn't have any better ideas, so I prayed and went to church camp. Two church camps, actually. I figured the extra dose couldn't hurt.
My week at Church Camp One was miserable. I still couldn’t sleep, and at camp they actually MAKE you get out of bed. Depressed people hate getting out of bed. I panicked at every meal about the calories I was consuming, not having access to labels to read and scrutinize. I was forced to spend time with people I didn’t know and who didn’t know me or understand why I looked so pitiful all the time. I had a tightly scheduled day that didn’t have built in time allotments for things like panic attacks, crying uncontrollably, or sneaking off to bathrooms to try my hand at bulimia.
I tried to make my church camp prescription work for me. I listened attentively to every lesson, searching for that secret nugget of knowledge that might cure me. I reached out to my counselors, who thoughtfully patted me on the back and translated "I want to kill myself" into "I just don't like high school very much". I prayed. I had been praying passionately for months. I still don't know why my therapist assumed I'd never thought to try prayer. I had. I prayed more earnestly than I ever had before. I prayed on my knees for the very first time, physically brought low by my burden. I prayed that God would repair my circumstances, and then I prayed that he would make me happy in spite of the circumstances. Then I prayed that he would just end my life for me and take me home to be with him, since I knew I wasn't supposed to do that myself. I prayed through the Psalms. David seemed to get me. I even had a journal in which I transcribed the Psalms that really spoke to me. I've written these words from Psalm 55 over and over again.
My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, "Oh that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest."
That brings me to the last night of Church Camp One. The evening lesson was about Matthew 14, in which Jesus, and subsequently Peter, walk on water.
I've heard this piece of scripture spun several different ways. I've heard lessons focused on the preeminence of Christ, using this story to illustrate his dominion over the elements. I've heard lessons focused on the faith of Peter, which encourage us to trust God and "step out of the boat". Recently my friend Dennis presented a completely new idea about this passage that was insightful enough that it deserves it's own blog post for another time.
That evening at church camp the lesson was about Peter, drowning and afraid in the midst of the raging wind and tempest, calling out to the Savior who, "immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him". The speaker drove home this message: When children of God call out to Him, He saves them. If you're in trouble, ask God for help. He will not forsake you. Why haven't you already asked? Don't you trust Him?
I stood up before worship had been dismissed and ran angry and confused from the worship pavilion back to my cabin. Once inside I sobbed on the floor and yelled at the ceiling. ARE YOU NOT HEARING ME? AM I NOT BEING CLEAR? THIS IS ME ASKING FOR YOUR HELP. WHERE ARE YOU? I'M DROWNING! ARE YOU GOING TO SAVE ME OR NOT? WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO GET YOU TO LISTEN TO ME?
That went on until I was completely drained of energy. Then I waited, crumpled on the floor, for God to respond.
I'd love to tell you that this is the part of the story when I felt an overwhelming sense of supernatural peace, or that right at that moment a person walked in the door with words of wisdom and comfort that changed my life. That's not what happened. I received no answer from God - at least not an immediate or tangible one. Nothing happened except that worship was dismissed up the hill and the rest of my cabin mates started to file in, happy and chattering, to collect their belongings for the evening activity. After camp I continued to lose sleep, lose weight, lose friends, lose interest, and lose hope. I didn't get better for a long time, and it was a slow process at that.
At the time, the perceived lack of response from God was devastating, but for the sake of this blog I'm glad it worked out that way. I hate the notion that if people with depression just loved God more they would find joy in him and be healed, or that if people with anxiety disorders trusted God they would be able to sleep at night. I resent the suggestion that faithful prayer works, and if your prayers aren't answered you must not be doing it right. I'm glad my story doesn't perpetuate that narrative. In full faith I begged God to answer me, and he was silent. Sometimes he does that. Ask Job, or David, or Paul, or Jesus in the garden. Maybe this describes you right now.
It's important to realize that silence from God is not indicative of a lack of faith on your part, or a lack of faithfulness on God's. God is good, and capable of working in silence.
God, in his silence, has given me a voice I might not have otherwise had. His silence tested my faith, building it into something stable and strong enough to survive the raging wind. His silence made me listen harder, being quiet just in case an answer did come. His silence gave me an experience that not everyone can understand, making it possible for me to be a bridge for those who understand all too well, and a window for those who want to understand but don't. I didn't get the answer I asked for, but I did get a story - hopefully a story that can serve a purpose for him.
If what you're getting from God right now is silence, please know that you're not alone and you're not being ignored. Continue to earnestly plead with God for deliverance, trusting that your petitions are being heard - even if what you get in return is silence. Trust that a story is being written that may not make sense right now. Trust that when cures are not given, strength is.
Also know that it's ok to need more than prayer, and that doesn't mean you're doing it wrong. It's ok to need medicine, and therapy, and time. It's ok to not be ok for a while. Lots of us aren't ok. You're in great company.
Someday I'll tell the story of Church Camp Two. Don't worry, it's a funnier story.