Thursday, October 9, 2014

Surrendering to Help

Photo image courtesy of Václav Mach via
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
~ Matthew 23:12, ESV ~

In a “pick yourself up by your boot straps”, “God helps those who help themselves” culture, it’s hard to accept that you need help.  When the expectations of everyone around you scream that you should be able to handle life, you begin to self-impose that same pressure.  Some may extend a hand again and again, yet you smile, downplaying your difficulties, assuring, “I’ve got this.”

For too many decades of my life, I suffered needlessly because of this faulty thinking.  Unfortunately, that meant everyone around me suffered as well.

I probably lived with chronic depression since my youth without it ever being diagnosed.  I was raised by a mother who had untreated mental illness and an addiction to prescription pain relievers.  My father held the pervasive attitude of that generation when it came to these issues, uttering, “Get ahold of yourself,” if we were ever less than cheerful.

It wasn’t until I was a young adult and had made several bad decisions that I softened to the idea of seeing a psychologist.  I was willing to get some input when I had a boyfriend abuse me in my college years, or when I miscarried my first child, or when my first marriage was falling apart.  At least at that point I discovered how helpful Cognitive Behavior Therapy could be to a person like me.  Rather than blaming everything on my past, I learned that I could discuss challenges and put new tools in my tool chest to deal with them.  I learned the skill of doubting my doubts and challenging my despair.

Even so, I recoiled at the notion of medication.  Perhaps it was my own mother’s addiction coupled with the attitude that my father had engrained in me, but the thought of psychotropic drugs was something I felt compelled to avoid at all costs.

It wasn’t until I got to the point of nearly suicidal depression early in my second marriage that I finally acquiesced.  At my psychologist’s referral, I saw a psychiatrist for medication, and my life has never been the same since.  As my therapist put it, the prescription literally puts a floor under my depressive free-fall. 

Don’t get me wrong.  It doesn’t do the emotional work for me.  A person can take all the drugs they want, and that won’t magically make their problems disappear.  But the medication has been like a ladder to help me climb out of a deep, dark, impossible hole.

I had to humble myself before I could be lifted up.  I had to admit my inability to solve this problem on my own.

Contrary to the popular nonsense so pervasive in the world of prosperity gospel, I could not just think my way out of this illness with a good attitude.  That is one of the most difficult parts of chronic depression.  A person can logically look at themselves wishing to get better, sensing their emotions are larger than anything that is happening in their lives, yet they can’t shake the mood.  It is miserably heavy, uncomfortable, and exhausting.  There are things that can be done to improve it.  Exercise, sunlight, proper diet, adequate sleep, and filling the mind with our Eternal Hope are extremely important.  Even so, for so many people just like me, God still allows us to walk with this stubborn “thorn in the flesh”.

Yet, in my weakness, He is strong.  My depression keeps me ever-humble, realizing that it’s all God plus none of me that accomplishes His will in my little world.  In my place of brokenness, I have the privilege of learning that God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness far exceeds any emotion I may have.  I may feel that I will be crushed by my circumstances to the point of utter hopelessness, but my cognitive mind can always ride out the darkest episode assured that I know better than that.  God’s goodness transcends my feelings.  This Eternal Hope helps me to ride out any depressive episode I may have to endure like a pesky head cold.  I know that it is miserably uncomfortable, but I also know that it will eventually pass.  The Holy Spirit holds me close and ushers me through it.

When I first had to face this monster of depression, I felt great shame, and kept to myself about it.  Yet, as God equipped me to live with this chronic diagnosis, He also compelled me to be more transparent with others.  He showed me that in admitting my brokenness, I made the world safer for others like me.  As I opened up about my battle, I helped remove the stigma for others.  I could reassure people that, just because I struggle with depression does not mean that I am a bad Christian, or that I am faithless, or that I am a worse sinner than anyone else.  No, instead, I could demonstrate that living with this diagnosis means that I have a faith that is continually tested, yet comes out solid as a rock.  And on the days when my depression is winning the fight, telling me that God has abandoned me, He still remains ever loving, ever devoted to me.  When I can’t feel Him by my side, He is still there.

In God’s great grace, He also enabled my depression to blazon a trail for one of my children who struggles with a mental health issue.  While my child’s diagnosis differs from mine, I am still able to be of comfort in between episodes of that child’s anxiety, “God is real, no matter how you feel.”  I am able to equip my child to do the hard work of dealing with ugly mental health issues, because I have been there myself.  It is a blessing to bring a calming effect to a situation because I speak from hard-fought experience, and this child of mine knows it.

This world has been broken since the day that man invited sin into it by disobeying God.  Mental illness is just part of that brokenness.  It is no different from my osteoarthritis being part of that brokenness, or my daughter’s severe allergies being part of that brokenness, or my son’s hemophilia being part of that brokenness.  It may be a serious challenge, but it doesn’t solely define who we are.  In this world, we may be undergoers, but in Christ, we are overcomers as we surrender to His help.

PRAY:  Thank You, Lord, that when we are weak, Your true strength shines through.  Help us to talk back to the devil, pushing back the stigma and false accusations of mental illness.  Heal that wounds that exist between Your Church and those dealing with mental health issues.  Nothing is too big or too small for Your deliverance!

~ Barb Dittrich

October 10th is #WorldMentalHealthDay!  Join Rick & Kay Warren for their FREE 24 Hours of Hope in honor of this annual observance.   

October 5 - 11, 2014 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and World Mental Health Day is on October 10, 2014.  Join us for a week of online resources and prayer support at our Facebook Event.

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