Laurie Coombs is a passionate writer and speaker on the issues of forgiveness, redemption, and the hope found in Jesus. She is the author of Letters from My Father’s Murderer: A Journey of Forgiveness, an incredible true story of grace, mercy, and the redemptive power of God. Her story was featured in Billy Graham’s film, Heaven, as well as on many other national and regional radio and television programs. She is a contributor to Zondervan’s NIV Bible for Women and writes at LaurieCoombs.org. Laurie and her husband, Travis, make their home in Nevada along with their three daughters.
I think last week's post, When Anxiety and Depression Threaten to Pull You Under, struck a cord. It seems the darkness I had experienced has been experienced––or is currently being experienced––by many. Over the last week, many people have contacted me asking for help, and with each email that I received, I realized just how important it is that I speak out with complete transparency about what I went through and how I got out of it.
I originally decided to write these posts on anxiety and depression in response to correspondence I received from a man I sat next to on an airplane a few weeks back. It was one of those encounters that you know God ordained, but you're not quite sure why you're telling a complete stranger your entire life's story until later. Now, I'm accustom to telling strangers about the crazy story of how God redeemed my past and gave me grace to forgive the man who murdered my dad, but that wasn't all I shared this time. No, this man got my whole story. I told him about my upbringing, the anxiety and depression I had gone through, how I came to Christ, and more. Truly, I couldn't stop talking. It felt like I was vomiting words all over this poor guy, but for whatever reason, I knew God wanted me to, so I kept going. A week or so later, I found out why I kept talking and talking when this man contacted me through my blog to tell me his story. He told me that he had no hope when we met, that my story had given him hope, and that he was struggling with anxiety and depression but didn't know how to get out of it.
Then I started thinking. How many others are out there living in terrible darkness and have no hope? How many others think that they will always struggle with this? That they are the only one? That they will never get better? That they're going crazy? That they have a legitimate mental illness that dooms them to live a painful, joyless existence for the rest of their lives? And that God has abandoned them?
So many people who struggle with anxiety and depression feel they will never recover. But that's simply not true. There is hope! God can pluck you up out of your pit of despair! Just as He did for me!
I'd like to share an anonymous comment I received this week. I think it paints a good picture of what depression can look like. It says:
You have no idea how your post on depression has rang true for me!!! I don't know what to say or how to even describe how reading your article is like looking at my reflection!!! I am in the darkest pit of my life; numb, lonely, afraid and in absolute despair. I have been a Christian since childhood but suddenly I have found myself in a dark place where God is MIA.
All I do is sleep because then I feel like I am getting some 'escape.' The few guys I have reached out to don't get me. The physical symptoms have made me spend so much money on doctors only for the tests to show I am ok. The brain fog, the crazy fatigue, leg aches and endless tears and heart palpitations are beyond what I can take. Nothing good or bad moves me anymore!!!! I am numb, dead man walking!!!
How exactly did you overcome depression, and how long did it take?
This just breaks my heart. I've been there. Truly, I could have written this five years ago.
The numbness. The brain fog. The fatigue. The darkness. The fear (or sometimes terror). The loneliness that you feel even when surrounded by others.
Even when present in body, I was not present in mind. My mind didn't work properly, and quite frankly, that scared me. All I wanted to do was feel, but as this person wrote, nothing good or bad moved me. I was surrounded by darkness, sitting in a pit of despair. Another person wrote to me after my last post saying, "I'm trying to pull myself out of this pit of hell..." Oh, how I could relate!
So the question remains, how did I overcome depression, and how long did it take?
To that, I must take a step back and first say that I experienced both anxiety and depression together, and I think this is a common experience for many. For me, it started with certain physical symptoms such as constant fatigue, nausea, headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, digestive issues, nervousness, absentmindedness, brain fog, fear, and so on and so forth, which led me to doctor after doctor in search of what was wrong with me. I spent quite a bit of money trying to figure the whole thing out only to be told that I was physically okay and that I might be experiencing anxiety. But I wondered how I might be able to fix that anxiety. It didn't seem like an easy fix––it isn't easy to just "relax" when you're told you need to and the typical "stress management" isn't working! Even though I didn't want there to be anything physically wrong with me, I thought that at least if it were something physical, there could be a cure for that, but what was I to do with anxiety?
As you can imagine, it didn't take much for me to lose hope at this point, and we all know that's a bad place to be. Hope is the tether to life––it's our lifeline. But I had none, and somewhere in the midst of all this mess I became depressed and desperate for anything to make me better, but of course, nothing worked.
Nothing, that is, until I finally came to Jesus.
God is the one who healed me. It was the first of many times He has shown Himself mighty in my life, and I am forever thankful for the healing he brought. There was such relief that came with my healing, but I must tell you that it didn't come overnight. It was a process. It took about one year to get the point that I felt like a relatively normal person again––until the point that I knew I'd be okay. But my healing wasn't complete after that year. God had to heal me of fear as well, which I believe was at the root of all this mess.
It seems to me that fear is at the root of all anxiety. Though the source of our fear may be unclear, I still believe fear is the cause of anxiety. And fear is present when we fail to trust God. When I was going through this season, I didn't know God. And when you don't know God, life is just a series of random events that happen to you. There's no one at the helm but yourself. But if you're honest with yourself, you know that you can't control the circumstances of your life. Things happen. Bad things. And you think, that's just the way life goes. It's random. Unordered.
But truthfully, life is anything but random.
After I became a follower of Christ, I began to understand that God is, in fact, who He says He is in the Bible. That He has not only created all things but that He holds all things together. That He is in control. Even better than that––He loves us and is intimately involved in our lives. He's not some cosmic power in the sky. He's not some emotion-less creator who has abandoned His creation. He's our Father in Heaven who loves every one of us and works all things for the good of those who know and love Him.
This is our God. And our God can be trusted.
You see, God is here with us. He says "I am with you" (Matthew 28:20), and "I will never leave you or forsake you" (Joshua 1:5). Those are promises, so even when we feel like God is "MIA," He's not. He is with us.
Early in my walk with Jesus, I began to understand who God is––I began to know His heart toward me––and I began to trust God. Over time, my trust in God grew, and as it did, the darkness began to lift. Trust came as I read God's Word and inundated my mind with His truths. And I believe this is the key to bringing light into our lives again. You see, darkness must flee in the presence of light. Jesus is light, so the more our attention rests upon Him the brighter His light is able to shine upon and in us. This is what it takes to overcome anxiety and depression. To take our eyes off the way we feel and the circumstances we're currently living in and put them on Jesus. For He alone is our hope. The hope I had that I had lost when I fell into my pit was in fact a false hope. It was a hope in the world––a hope in myself. But you see, this hope will always fail us. This hope will never sustain us throughout our lives. But the hope found in Jesus is a hope that will last for all eternity. Think eternally. Hope in God. Trust Him. Love Him. Press in. Scripture tells us that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us! So do it! He is our only real hope in both this life, and the next.
Any thoughts? Share in the comments section at LaurieCoombs.org.
Editor's Note: This post was previously published in March 2014.