God is with us when we feel most alone.
by Mary Bair
I sit in another office with cool, “restful” colored paint, muted lighting, and nondescript art on the walls. A desk, bookshelf full of books, chairs — always more than two so I can choose to sit where I feel “safest” and most “comfortable.”
How many times have I been in a place like this? How many times will I find myself here again?
The counselor/therapist/doctor comes in and sits at her desk. She looks unassuming and non-threatening. Speaking to me in her softest but strongest counselor voice, she starts with the question they all ask: “How long have you felt like this?”
I want to laugh and say, “Surely you can read. It’s got to be in there somewhere. I say the same thing every time I meet someone new.” Instead, I answer sarcastically, “You mean this time?”
She smiles that counselor smile. I’m sure she’s used to such reactions and is thinking, Don’t panic the crazy one. But in that soothing voice all mental health employees have, all she says is “I understand. We do seem to always ask the same questions, don’t we? Let’s start with the first time, and then we’ll discuss this time.”
I don’t really have to think; the answer is easy. “Forever,” I say. Forever and always. Sometimes I could ignore it but never escape it. Nothing makes you feel more like an outsider than being born unhappy into a seemingly normal family where happiness reigns.
The signs were always there. When I was in elementary school, a doctor told my mom I might be depressed. But when she asked if anything was bothering me, I told her no. She asked me if I knew I was important and mattered; I told her yes. She asked if I would tell her if something was wrong. I told her yes, but never would. I think she knew I was lying. By age ten, I had closed her and the world out.
I learned to hide my feelings young. In my family, we were taught “No one likes a sad face.” I took it to heart, so I put on a happy face and shoved everything inside to keep from rocking the boat.
As I disconnected from my feelings, I disconnected from the world. I didn’t understand the world, and it didn’t understand me. I was alone — except for God being with me. I knew He loved me.
My parents had taught me all about God and what He had done for me, and I always knew it was true — the only love I never doubted. When I became upset, I repeated Bible verses to myself or closed my eyes, opened the Bible, and pointed to a verse. It was God’s way of reassuring me. In my darkest times, He was there.
I reminded myself that He promised to never leave me nor forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6). I knew I wasn’t good enough and that I had failed Him, but He loved me anyway. He had let Jesus die for me. I held on to that love. I had nothing else.
Life became rougher as I grew older. A bad marriage, abuse, rape, single parenting — you name it, it happened. Life hurt.
I asked God to forgive me for not being strong enough or good enough. I reminded myself that God wouldn’t give me anything I couldn’t handle (1 Corinthians 10:13). I just needed to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).
But why couldn’t I do that? Why was I always so frightened and always running? I knew it had to be me. I just needed to be a better person. I tried but always failed. I failed my family, my children, and God.
After years of suffering, I finally went to a psychologist and was diagnosed with dysthymia, or chronic depression. The psychologist advised medication and counseling. He asked me if I thought of suicide, and I explained my attitude about it. “Do you know God loves you?” he asked. He told me some people were so depressed that they didn’t even believe God cared.
That made me stop and think. I had nothing else, but I knew I had God. I started attending sessions and began to feel better. Thinking I was cured after a few months, I went off my medication, stopped therapy, and continued with life. I tried to remember things the counselor taught me.
That might have worked had life not continued to throw things at me: bills, raising my kids, family issues, people treating me badly. I became overwhelmed and experienced mood swings. People took advantage of me and were often unkind.
I began to be anxious and have nightmares. I felt guilty about being a bad parent because I couldn’t pull myself together. I could no longer shove my feelings or put on a happy face.
I continued to get worse until, like a runaway train, I went off the rails. I worried about everything and cried every day. Every night I asked God to let me die, and every morning awoke disappointed I was alive.
One January day, my fragile grip on life ended. The police came to my house for a welfare check, and I couldn’t hold it together. Shaking and crying, I ranted and raved at my son.
Cry for help
I ended up at the emergency mental health facility and stayed 23 hours at the county hospital. After showering and washing my clothes, I sat in a dimly lit room with several beds. The TV was on low, and everyone talked soothingly.
I looked around, terrified. Is this what my life had come to? In a daze, I prayed silently, “Lord, please help me! I know You say I can do all things through Your strength, but I am barely holding it together. Please help me!”
Help from God
God did send help — at least I thought. A doctor at the hospital determined I was not suicidal. After my release, I called a number given me at the hospital and told the staff about my childhood, my marriage, my rape, my failures as a parent and in other relationships.
Afterward I was diagnosed with major depression, PTSD, and anxiety disorder. I was given prescriptions and sent to a mental health clinic.
Though ready to take the first step, I also wanted to run as far as I could. But a seizure sent me to the hospital for two months with a broken back and shoulders.
My deteriorating mental state got worse. The hospital psychologist began to visit my room regularly. I tried to put on my fake smile, but there was nothing left of me. I was broken — physically, mentally, spiritually.
Once I got out of the hospital and could get around, I returned to the mental health clinic and took the medicine the doctor prescribed. But it didn’t help.
My request for counseling brought me this counselor’s office, where I now sit, answering questions.
Telling her my story, I skim over the details to avoid the pain — pain I’m not willing to share with anyone, especially with a stranger. I know there is no hope for me, and I don’t want the phony platitudes and encouragement. I want real help.
As the counselor continues to talk, my brain begins to wander, and I mentally leave the room. I offer short, simple answers so she’ll think I’m listening.
Then she brings me back to reality. “Have you ever thought of harming yourself?”
I want to laugh; we both know the answer. I pause before speaking. “Thought about it? Sure, but I won’t. God says, ‘Though shalt not kill’ (Exodus 20:13). That includes me.” I also explain other convictions about killing myself.
She nods, and it is then we connect. She understands who I am and how to reach me: through my faith. We have found our common ground.
Building a bond
That appointment took place six months ago. The counselor and I didn’t bond overnight. She understood I was hurt and slow to trust, but she took her time. I examined her every move and every word for weeks, looking for insincerity and phoniness, but they weren’t there.
I slowly opened up to her — two steps forward, twelve steps back. She was always there, encouraging me, reminding me of my goal to get better, telling me it was my decision to continue or not. Never pushing — always guiding.
With her help, I have grown stronger and able to continue my journey. I wish I could say I am well and that my challenges are all behind me, but they’re not. This journey of depression and PTSD recovery is a long one that will probably last my whole life. This is only the beginning.
But I’m not alone; God is walking with me, and I lean on Him constantly. If I keep my faith in Him, He will be faithful to me as long as I live.