In 2013, I partnered with Leanne Sype to begin the process that led to the publication of Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission. I was thrilled with her work as editor, a crowdfunding consultant,a spiritual adviser, and friend. Here is some of her story.
I have depression. It’s called “situational depression” because it was induced by the situation of both my kids being diagnosed with mental illnesses. My son has ADHD. My daughter has depression and anxiety, which, for her, include symptoms like self-harm and thoughts of wanting to die. Over the course of navigating treatments, advocating for academic accommodations, and engaging in the bulk of the emotional support for each kiddo, I felt depression slowly weigh down on my chest.
I once had a Christian friend tell me that anything with the prefix de- isn’t “of God.” Depression fell into that category in our conversation. Whether that theology is accurate or not, I don’t know. Here is what I know as I wrestle with the fact that three out of our four family members are struggling with mental health conditions:
When my son was diagnosed, one of the first things I did was create a little book of prayers for him to keep by his bedside. The prayers came from a book called Prayers that Avail Much by Germaine Copeland. There’s a section solely dedicated to those who live with ADHD, and the prayers cover the gamut ranging from prayers after a bad day to a prayer for each day of the week. I copied all the prayers, made a little cover, and laminated each page.
On many nights this sweet little book has been the center of our mother-son time together when I am tucking my son in for bed. Night time is an honest time. Without the distraction of the day, our thoughts and feelings have no choice but to be acknowledged. Sometimes my son expresses how much he hates himself because he “does bad things.” (What’s really happening is ADHD inhibits him from being able to think through and process decisions.) Other times I am feeling sad, and he’s compassionate about my heavy heart. Whatever the feelings are that we’re processing, my son picks up the book and finds the prayer he thinks would best suit our troubles. He’s even adapted the prayers at times to better meet the needs of both our hearts.
These nights of honest talks and prayer with my son about depression and ADHD are of God.
Before my daughter’s diagnosis, my husband and I were dealing with daily and extreme mood swings from our little girl. She often spoke of wanting to kill herself or cut off her finger with scissors, but she usually settled for scratching at her face, biting her arms, and pinching her skin. Her outbursts of anger came without warning and were accompanied by screaming, crying, and tensing up of her entire body. While I would lovingly restrain her from either running away and/or hurting herself, I would silently pray desperate yet calm prayers. It wasn’t until my daughter would finally collapse into exhausted and sad weeping that I could pray for her out loud. Over the last many months of therapy my daughter has developed tools and understanding to help calm herself. Her depression still comes and goes on a daily basis, and her anxiety is growing. She recently experienced her first panic attack.
Sometimes she’s furious with God for making her sad and fearful all the time (as she feels is the case); other times she’s madly in love with God and can’t wait to be with him. She asks so many amazing and wonderful questions about God; she asks challenging and intriguing questions about God. Our discussions about Jesus are precious, honest, and intuitive. We read Scripture passages; we pray; we cry. Sometimes I anoint her bedroom with frankincense oil or spray my perfume (a.k.a. “monster spray”) around her room to keep the dark and scary away while she’s sleeping.
These bedtime conversations and practices with my little girl are of God.
For me, depression is exhausting and it sucks energy right out of my body. Some days it takes extreme effort to do anything, from getting out of bed to updating my status on Facebook. Responding to emails, driving my kids around, and making dinner feels like enduring a triathlon with no training. I cry, I sleep, I do laundry. I rest, I think, I make dinner. I take a nap, I eat some food, I take my antidepressant. I go to counseling, I process, I help my kids through their emotions.
Every now and then I get an inexplicable surge of energy that allows me to play a game of Horse on the basketball court with my son, or to cheer wildly for my daughter when she hits a screaming ball to center field in her softball game, or to enjoy a spontaneous date with my husband at the restaurant down the street.
All the little moments of reprieve and joy in the midst of my depression are of God.
I’ve done all the things I’m “supposed to do as a Christian” to feel better, like pray, serve others, and read the Bible. The guilt I have felt straining to do the Christian remedies for both myself and my kids has made me feel worse at times because mental illness still affects my family on a daily basis. Am I doing something wrong? Do I have sin I haven’t repented from yet?
The answer is maybe, but that is not why we’re navigating depression, anxiety and ADHD. These illnesses are not punishment from God or a consequence of spiritual neglect. They are a part of our brain chemistries; a unique thread in our family DNA. God has been faithful in being present despite the struggles. He’s at the center of our lives, walking beside us through our challenges, opening doors and leading us to the right people for help. Most importantly He loves us as we are, allowing us to draw near to him as our main source for help. He hasn’t healed our mental ailments, but He has loved us through them. That love is of God because it is God.