Someone (who I love very deeply, so what they say matters to me) recently told me that, based on the tone and content of my most recent blog posts, it sounds like I’m still struggling with depression.
Long after that conversation happened I started to pick a part my emotional response and ask myself why I felt the way I did.
I felt a little betrayed, somewhat hurt by the comment. Because although I’ve made so much progress in the past few months, the inability of the people around me to perceive it the way I do can be frustrating and isolating. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the desire to prove to the people I’m in relationship and community with that I’ve grown, that I’m better, that I’m strong, that I’m okay.
After the defensiveness I began to question whether I really was okay. Maybe they were right, maybe I wasn’t as free as I thought I was. I mean how far can I be from past bondage if it’s still coloring my creative expression in a way that’s so obvious? Who else felt that way? Maybe everyone thinks I’m depressed. Maybe everyone thinks my blog is a desperate cry for help. Maybe everyone thinks I’m weak. Maybe I should stop writing until I’m sure I’m not depressed. How can I help people if I’m not completely free?
A fissure opened in my confidence and suddenly questions began to pour out, all tinged with insecurity, panicked and fearful in nature.
I was going through something earlier this year when Yahweh revealed to me that there was an area in my life where I still felt I needed to prove myself. I still felt like I needed to do something, or say something, or act a certain way to prove to other people who I wasn’t weak, naïve, or spineless. I wanted to prove I was an adult, I made my own decisions, I ran my own life, I was an independent thinker and I knew who I was and what I wanted. My need to prove myself was causing me to behave out of character, making me anxious, and causing me to take matters into my own hands that belonged in the hands of Yahweh.
The conversation I had earlier this week brought back what the Holy Spirit said to me about what it means when I have something to prove. He said where ever I feel I have something to prove, I am not whole. My identity in that place has been distorted by a lie, and anything built on a false foundation will crumble. My need to prove myself is my vain attempt to hold together a piece of me that isn’t fortified by truth.
So I did some digging and discovered that the lie I was still holding on to is that I’m weak.
I’ve wrestled with weakness and what it means to be strong for as long as I remember, ever since the day in first grade when sadness sat in the seat beside me, and became my constant companion. Through every season of life – all the momentous, joyous occasions, and all the horrific, unforgettable tragedies, sadness has been present. I recognized it at six, and wasn’t able to communicate its constant presence until I was in my early twenties. So now, at 25, I am just beginning to understand how much of the way I see myself has been focused through the warped lens of sadness.
The sadness produced a complex about the meaning of strength, and whispered lies to me about myself that eventually defined me. I cry often, I always have. I’m an emotional person, quickly moved to sympathy and given to compassion. I found it hard to handle criticism for a variety of reasons, and still struggle sometimes to funnel constructive comments through the right perspective to ward off offense. I couldn’t take a joke, even the slightest hint of teasing felt like physical blows and led to emotional breakdowns. People avoided me because I was hypersensitive, and I avoided people because I didn’t want to risk being made fun of and humiliating myself by crying openly. Sadness said all of this made me weak, insufferable, unacceptable, and to a degree, unlovable.
Growing up, I always felt weak, like I was emotionally sickly. I could never seem to be happy or excited long enough to prove to the people around me that I was okay. So I started trying to prove myself. I started pushing back against, not the lie that I was weak, but the belief that people had that I was weak, and began attempting to prove myself. I just hated being pitied, being seen as fragile and unstable.
I wrongly equated strength with the lack of emotion. I believed that it was the people who had learned to conceal their bruised countenances and staunch their flow of hot tears who were really strong. To my shame and dismay I believed that there were people who were capable of handling tragedy and processing stress effectively, and then there were people like me who just couldn’t handle it. The ones who couldn’t handle bad news, or take pain, the ones who were always on the edge of a mental breakdown, who were always outside the loop of important, grievous information because no one trusts the state of their mind to be firm enough take it. I resented it, so I started trying to prove (to myself and others) that I didn’t believe it.
I felt the weight of sadness magnify during my college years, and it was beginning to squeeze me so hard I couldn’t breathe sometimes. I didn’t know the sadness had morphed into something more sinister until a woman I lived with and grew to love saw me. She watched me for weeks as I struggled to leave bed in the morning. She watched me sit at the kitchen table and silently weep into my morning tea. She listened to me sob uncontrollably in my rented room, and saw me drag myself out the front door to live a life I almost hated every single morning.
She intercepted me on the staircase one morning in October when I’d cut Differential Equations at 8 am to study for an exam I had at 11. She laid her hands on my head and petitioned the Father who we both knew, but only she really had a relationship with. She slipped into her prayer tongue and I hugged her waist as sobs racked my body and she communicated everything I didn’t feel like I could.
“Depression,” she said. And as she said it, my entire past, blurry with the passing of time, came rushing into focus. The madness in my brain ceased. My scampering mass of usual emotions all stopped and looked out my eyes, she knows my name, they said, they all said. It was all depression – the lack of motivation, the heaviness, the constant ache in my head, the need to be isolated, the over and under eating, the persistent feeling of approaching sickness, the dark moods and defeated attitude, the hopelessness, the grief, the angst, the inability to get excited about anything, the numbness, the lack of confidence.
I believe in spirits, I believe in family curses, and I believe in warfare. But I didn’t really consider it something I needed to worry about because I was still functioning, barely, but I was. But in that moment, I felt loose stones fall into perfect slots, as I identified the spirit I had warred against for most of my short life I felt a change take place inside me. I saw the eyes of my six-year-old sadness nestled into the face and on the body of the matured demon I fought daily, and realized that the childish sadness and the grown depression were one in the same.
That lady taught me how to fight, how to talk back to myself, how to push past anxiety and replace lies with truth. She discipled me at a time when I didn’t know what discipleship was. She dragged me out of bed in the morning and woke me up when I was sleeping too long. She made me eat and told me when to stop eating. She took me to church and asked me uncomfortable questions like how long have you been crying? Do you want to be here today? She gave me an old NIV Bible and taught me how to find myself in its characters and find comfort in its content.
I survived the worst stint of depression I’ve ever faced because of her interception, and I thank Yahweh that He dropped me into her life, even under painful circumstances. But even as I became stronger, I still wrestled with the weakness. I still wrestled with the thought that because I battle depression it means that I am weak.
Years have passed, and I have grown and changed, but my process of deliverance from depression is still underway. I think there’s a widely held misconception that deliverance is always instantaneous. Sometimes we become more and more free with each fight we win. Sometimes the chains fall off one by one as we change shape, grow, and become. Sometimes the presence of persistent opposition is what forces us to develop a fight strategy, and stay on guard at all times. Sometimes the threat of enemy invasion is the thing that stretches you into the person you’re meant to be.
Depression is still very much a part of my life, but I have something now that I haven’t had before: I have a relationship with Yahweh. I know Him for myself. His Spirit lives in me. Hs word lives in my heart. His truths dictate my path and position. His voice leads me through my life. Depression may be a contender, but Yahweh is my victory. In Him, I am an overcomer. I am no victim. So though I may fall prey to depression in its ruses and disguises, though it may sneak in by a back door or lay dormant in a confusing emotion for a while, it will not incapacitate me the way it has in the past. It will not overcome me. It will not win, because Yahshua fights for me, and He is Victory.
So yes, I still struggle with depression sometimes. But through relationship with Yahweh He has shown me that the struggle doesn’t have to mean defeat. He can and has used this particular struggle to make me a source of understanding and compassion for many. He has used it to draw me closer to Himself, and shown me the depth of my strength with each round in the ring I win. I am fighting for my joy, fighting for happiness, and fighting for peace. I will not stop until my countenance matches my conviction that as a child of the King I can have all of these things.
I struggle, but I am not weak. And now that I know that some part of me is still shaped by belief of the lie that I am, I will put the Word on it and begin to rebuild on a foundation of truth. I will disrobe that lie and shout it down to the ground again and again until it surrenders its hold on me. And I will remind myself every time I am tempted to that I do not have to prove the progress in my process to anyone, not even myself. Sadness will no longer inform my identity and tell me who I am. Only Yahweh has the ability to speak to my identity. No human, no failure, no obstacle, no opposition can tell me who and what I am, not anymore. I am not weak, I am a warrior, and I will fight these private battles against the lies about myself I’ve come to believe whether people pat me on the back for it or not.
So if you are in the process of progress – if you are getting stronger, but still bear some resemblance to who you used to be – be encouraged. Just because your deliverance isn’t instantaneous does not mean that it’s invalid or ineffective. As long as you have determined to move forward, you are being made free. As long as you are surrendering to Yahweh and His will daily, you are leaving the place of your dysfunction. You may not be out of the field, but you’re out of the woods, you’re not where you used to be. And that counts.
Progress, no matter how small a part within your process, counts.
So keep fighting, keep walking, keep turning over the lies you’ve built your life on and keep discovering the truth you were always meant to live out. Keep charging into darkness and shining light there. Keep confronting your dysfunction and facing your giants. Keep being a savage against your sinful nature, and keep sacrificing your flesh on the altar of purpose and identity.
Keep fighting for the change you know you can have. And even if no one else notices your growth, keep making progress.