Meeting God in the pit of depression.
by Nancy Hagerman
The door swung shut behind me, and the automatic lock clicked on. Shoes and socks, watch, purse, and even my wedding ring were confiscated at the front desk. The uniform — sweat pants and t-shirt — was doled out, and I changed under the watchful eyes of a nurse.
She escorted me to my room: a small cot, blanket, and flat pillow. My roommate, sitting cross-legged on her bed, looked up as I came in and then continued rocking back and forth.
In the bathroom, I found a sink, toilet, and shower with no curtain. Towels, combs, toothbrushes, and toiletries were all stored at the nurse’s station to be checked out when needed, then promptly returned.
I sat on the edge of my bed. Shame overwhelmed me. I’d failed God and everyone once more. I am bipolar and at that moment believed no one could ever love me again — especially God.
Madness and mania
Trapped by uncontrollable emotions, I lived with mental illness for almost 40 years. My life was characterized by extreme mood swings I could not control, as though I were being moved by a puppeteer. Sometimes I danced wildly, my mind spinning with worries, plans, and ideas, one on top of the other. I’d forget my best friend’s name, which toothbrush belonged to me, and where to put a stamp on an envelope.
Helpless to turn my body off, I talked incessantly and slept only a few hours a day — or not at all. My energy was boundless; I felt restless, driven, and undisciplined. I thought I was more rational and wise than anyone else. When others didn’t understand me, I considered them either stupid or insane.
But the energy never lasted. The roller coaster would crest the hill and begin its plunge into depression. Life became pain and the world dark. The future held nothing but emptiness.
With my universe a black hole, Satan’s taunts echoed in my head. “Look at yourself. You’re hopeless! No one could possibly love a worthless piece of garbage like you. Even God is ashamed of you.”
Such pain! I loved God and wanted to please Him, but felt I couldn’t. A prayer I wrote in my journal from that time says it best: There’s a metal case around my heart and sometimes I wonder — will I ever feel again? I long for You to have my life, to shine through me. But all I feel is this aching hollow dullness. It seems so long since there has been any happiness. Where is JOY? A black cloud engulfs me.
My mental state wasn’t the only thing suffering; so was my marriage. Steve and I went for counseling, but our problems stemmed from my feeling unlovable and unlovely. My erratic behavior filled me with shame. I believed I was a complete failure — as a Christian, as a wife, and as a mother.
Steve found it harder to come home each evening. He never knew what he was coming home to. Sometimes I was agitated, restless, hostile, and critical of anything he did. More often Steve returned home to find me wallowing in despair, with TV dinners on the table and a cluttered house. In my depression I was barely able to crawl out of bed, let alone care for two young children and a home.
I began to consider suicide. Anything seemed better than existing in this darkness and pain.
One afternoon I blew. On the outside I was unusually calm. I made sure the kids were occupied elsewhere, then prepared dinner to be heated up later. I stepped out into the garage, closed all the windows, got into the car, and turned it on.
Scenes from my short life passed before my eyes, and I began to weep. I simply could not betray my husband and children this way; I loved them too much. I turned the car off, went back into the house, and called Steve. We decided sometime later that I should be hospitalized.
We visited several doctors with no results. I finally returned to a psychiatrist who had diagnosed me with depression seventeen years earlier. He placed me in the hospital and there identified bipolar disorder. He started me on Lithium, a drug that helps level mood swings, and prescribed an anti-depressant. I hated the idea of medication but was so desperate by this time, I was willing to try anything.
The fog slowly cleared, and things began looking up. I felt better but was ashamed of my new “crutch.” I thought taking pills implied a lack of faith. In my mind, I had failed the Lord again.
A cry for release
I told myself I felt fine and went off my medication, but soon depression swallowed me. The world was blacker than ever. After my suicide attempt, I promised my husband I would never try to kill myself again, but I could not bear the anguish in my soul.
Steve and I sat at the kitchen table one Sunday morning, and I attempted to weasel out of our agreement.
“Please understand,” I said, trying to reason with him. “I live in a bottomless pit — a black hole with no way out.” Tears flowed down my face. “I know I’ve failed you, but even worse I’ve failed God. A decent Christian would fix her eyes on Jesus and shake this off, but I can’t. Why would He help me now? Please, release me. I want to die!”
Steve held me and prayed for help. He insisted I come to church with him that morning.
Embraced by God
During prayer time, one of my friends stood up. Knowing nothing of my conversation with Steve, she said, “I’m sorry, but I have to say something. God has shown me that someone here feels as if they are in a bottomless pit or a black hole. They feel life is hopeless, that they are trapped with no way out, and that even God has forsaken them.”
Her eyes seemed to look straight into mine. “God is in that pit with you. He is holding you this very moment, and He will deliver you. He will set your feet upon the solid rock, and you will not fall.”
The truth my friend spoke set me free. I’d always pictured myself cringing at God’s feet, so terribly unworthy. Now, instead of kicking me away, He lifted my face with His gentle touch and smiled into my eyes. He drew me to my feet and embraced me. Then He boosted me out of the pit and took my hand.
I wept uncontrollably as my Savior and my friends began to minister to me. For almost 40 years I had prayed for freedom from the mood swings and dark depression that haunted my life. Now the answer was at hand; the healing had begun.
From bondage to freedom
I learned later that bipolar disorder has physical components and can be inherited. It involves a chemical imbalance in the brain, so I committed to taking medication regularly and checking in with my doctor and friends. God reminded me of the importance of proper nutrition and exercise. I learned to give myself permission to rest.
Most important, I learned to tell myself the truth. I searched the Bible for verses to use in countering the lies of the Devil:
To fear your name is wisdom (Micah 6:9).
I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).
I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine (Isaiah 43:1, NKJV).
These verses told me I was not dumb, ugly, or worthless. I was invaluable to God. Life was never without hope.
I began to know God for who He is, instead of who I believed He was — not a ruthless judge, demanding perfection, but a loving Father who is personally interested in me. Life was never about my behavior and accomplishments. It was about Jesus and the work He had already completed in my heart. His grace and mercy did not depend on how well I controlled my moods.
Walk of trust
I still have bipolar disorder but am no longer at its mercy. Trusting in Jesus, believing His truths in the Bible, and leaning on His strength give me a measure of control I never had before.
I take medication and visit my doctor, but Jesus has held me together most. A depression that used to last for months is controlled within a day, or even within a few hours. Suicidal thoughts come rarely, and I deal with them firmly. I am much too valuable to God to consider killing myself.
I have learned that when the world is black and everything looks hopeless, God is always there. Reality is no longer the way I feel but rather who He is. With this knowledge and my faith, I can live with bipolar disorder.
Scripture quotations were taken from the New International Version, except where noted.
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