After a few quick questions, the doc looked up from his questionnaire and concluded with some finality, “Rachel, I think you are depressed.”
I was shocked and immediately defensive. I thought the NHS were just fobbing me off with their latest hobby horse – “Pass her a few pills and all will be well”.
However, I would be lying if I said it was the first time I had heard a doctor say this. For me, depression was a constant battle but this time was different. For the first time, he was recommending a course of anti-depressants.
“I must be really messed up,” I concluded, inwardly.
I walked home bewildered and crushed. I went to the GP because I was tired and achy; after some research on Google (which is never good!), I had diagnosed myself with an autoimmune disease. Truthfully, I think I would have been content with lupus rather than depression. Why? For many, mental illness = shame, weakness, taboo.
“I should not feel this way,” I argued to myself. “Christians are supposed to be happy, joyful people. We are saved.”
When I went to church that Sunday, I avoided eye contact, afraid that perceptive eyes would be able to sense, as the doctor had done, what was really going on inside. I felt as if a label was tattooed across my forehead: depressed. Depression shaped my actions and thoughts: almost overnight, I became “Rachel Hanna, depressed person.” I distanced myself from people who loved and knew me best, fearing judgment, or worse – pity. I questioned my worth, relationships and, ultimately, the purpose of my life. Who would notice if I was gone anyway? Did anyone really care? Was it really worth going on?
That was June, now it is September. I am still taking anti-depressants and probably will be for some time. But now I am ok with that – why? I realised that, though my brain might need extra help to be positive, basing my identity upon a diagnosis was a form of idolatry. I am first and foremost a child of God – that is who I am. It does not mean that the world is perfectly rosy all of a sudden. Sometimes it feels like a constant battle. I am learning to see myself as God sees me and trusting Him despite the uncertainties and disappointments of life. A few months ago, the last person I turned to was God. Surely, He would prefer if I gave up wallowing and painted on my best Sunday School smile. I couldn’t be more wrong.
He has taught me a lot about His grace through this process and with the help of the Holy Spirit, I will choose gratitude instead of despair, practicing love and forgiveness instead of bitterness, contentment instead of comparison. I am freed by Christ from the bonds of sin and death and though I have my bad days, I know that one day all will be well. Until then, I use the truth of his Word as a sword, to fight the ongoing battles in my mind. In Christ, I am born again to a living hope, a hope for today and all of my tomorrows. I have a Father who works all things for my good and for now, He is challenging me to just trust Him. I praise God that He has removed my guilt and shame, teaching me that my identity is rooted in Him and that He is enough for me.
I am increasingly aware that I am not the only one living with depression and that it comes in many forms, I am by no means an expert. If you are struggling, do not be ashamed – please speak to someone about what’s going on. We need to remove the stigma and taboo of mental illness and learn how to better support our friends and family who live with it on a daily basis.