It happened again yesterday. Someone I haven't seen in a long time asked me how I was. Next comes the part where I ramble my way through an answer that is both honest and not too depressing for either of us. Then I admit I'm still having major problems with anxiety attacks. And she responds.... me, too.
The most mind-boggling of all the mind-boggling things that have occurred to me over the past seven months is the prevalence of the problem I share with so many other women. We are now, or have been in the past, dealing with life-altering anxiety or crippling depression, and sometimes both. That makes me simultaneously really glad and really sad at the same time ("You might experience mood swings," they say. Umm, no lie).
I'm glad because it means I'm not alone. That is big.
Depression lies louder and longer than any other sin except Pride. And the two of them, combined and egged on by Anxiety, have us convinced we are completely, totally, irrevocably alone. That no one else has ever had these ridiculous thoughts, these fearful episodes, these crying jags.
And it's simply not true. We aren't alone. Believers never are, even if there actually were a situation in the world that no one but Jesus could possibly understand, there is always Him.
But it also means that you know from personal experience how I'm feeling right now. How tired I am and how I struggle to stand there and make small talk and what a big deal it is to even get dressed and leave the house. The little coping mechanisms like coming in late and sitting in the back by the door, those are familiar strategies to you.
And that makes me sad.
I'm sad because when you tell me, you whisper.
You're still ashamed. You've come a long way, barreling past those early days where you couldn't even admit something was wrong, not even to yourself. You got help, you got rest, you made it through to the other side. But you're still not in a place where you can stand to say it out loud in a normal voice, where anyone but me might hear you. You can only open the door a crack and let your secret out, knowing that I need to hear it and when I hear it, it will help me. But that's as far as it goes.
I'm sad because when you tell me, your eyes speak, too.
They share a story that still makes you shudder. You're remembering that period, reliving the buried emotions, and you almost can't bear it. Because talking about it might bring it back.You may not suffer from daily anxiety attacks any more, but you've never lost the unspoken dread that it will return. That you never really got a handle on why it happened in the first place, so how can you prevent it from starting up again. And so that's as far as it goes.
Why don't we talk about this?
I feel reassured and betrayed at the same time.
No, I'm not alone. I can't tell you how many women have whispered to me of their own struggle. Dozens, I am not kidding you. Online and in person, late-night Facebook chats and deserted sanctuaries. Hand-written on cards and hearts poured out in private messages. I would never have guessed this. The one thing I am completely sure of is that you never know what someone else is dealing with.
I am in a club to whose membership I never aspired. Instead of a secret handshake, we have a secret confession, and we part with a pledge to pray for each other.
No one knows who the other club members are. Maybe one or two who have been brave enough to reference (safely-past, never ongoing) depression or casually bring up anxiety in the odd devotional or ladies' Bible study. Usually it's a nice polite version of an "anxiety" that would better be expressed by the word "worries." Not the kind where your lips go numb and you can't seem to get enough oxygen.
Can we not go deeper? Must we be this superficial with each other?
How can "not alone" still feel so lonely?
How I long for us to talk about this, to get it out into the light and drive a wooden stake into the stigma and silence. We're not alone, yet no one is willing to publicly stand on the stage and say it aloud to the spotlight and all and sundry. Our courage saw us as far as the steps and then deserted us.
I get it. I go through days when I'm good with being transparent about this un-wished-for journey, and other days when I shrink from even accepting, let alone expressing, the magnitude of how unwell I feel.
But I look at two especially dear friends, both recently descending into deep emotional and physical struggles of their own, and think of how sad it is when believers cannot tell each other the truth.
When we whisper instead of wrap our arms around each other.
When we save our stories for a "more appropriate" time, and then they wait, unspoken, as the season passes.
That makes me sad. We need to be past this, to step outside of our circle of pride and self-protection and be vulnerable and be vocal.
But I'm going to end with a "glad."
I'm glad because I know that my fellow sisters in Christ have discovered Him in the depths. Where we have failed to support and speak life to each other, He has not. When someday my pride or fear prevent me from speaking up when I should, there will be grace for that suffering child of God from some other source.
In gladness I'll let my present circumstances be informed by Scriptures that make it clear He is working all things together for our good and His glory. In quietness I can go ahead and let myself be dust and lean into the weakness on the hard days. My all-seeing, all-knowing, never-wasteful Heavenly Father will use this experience as mortar for the Kingdom work He is building.
"Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, Who comforts us in all our trials, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." II Cor 1:3-4