Companions in the Darkness

Editor’s Note:

Holding a conversation with Diana Gruver is like sitting in the sun: She radiates kindness and compassion in a way that makes you want to lean in and steal as many moments in her presence as possible. It may seem surprising, then, to hear her storyof how she, herself, “clawed toward the light” eclipsed by depression. As we continue our “Lost & Found” series, perhaps you will find yourself or someone you love between the lines below. Know, then, that there is a cloud of witnesses beside you and that you—that they—are never alone.  – Nichole Woo

The following is taken from the “Defining the Darkness,” the introduction to Diana Gruver’s book, Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints Who Struggled with Depression and Doubt.

I did not have a word for it until my senior year of college. Looking back, I can see it started before then,
in cycles and seasons when I described myself as “down,” “in a funk,” “struggling,” “low.” My friend
talked me into seeing a counselor at our college’s health center, and there I was given the word:
depression.

It felt foreign at first, as if this couldn’t be me, couldn’t be this thing I was feeling. But it had been so long
since I felt emotionally steady, emotionally “up,” that I didn’t remember what normal felt like anymore. I
no longer had the energy to wrestle with the thoughts in my head. I was stuck in a fog—confused,
overwhelmed, suffocated.

For brief moments it lifted enough for me to sip the fresh air—to realize just how much clearer and
easier life was without its presence.

On the days it lingered, I cried myself to sleep, my body curled into
a tight self-protective ball, begging God to hear me, to make me okay.

As time went on, I wondered whether he did hear me. My tears dried up and feelings left me. When the
numbness came, I lay awake, exhausted but unable to rest, desperate for those tears to return, because
then I would know I was still alive, not a shell of a human being. I longed to disappear, to drift off into
never-ending sleep. I longed for it all to go away.

Throughout this season, I felt weak, as if I ought to be able to fight the encroaching and all-
encompassing darkness. I felt ashamed, as if I was doing something wrong. Most of all, I felt afraid, as
depression tightened its grip on my sanity. Afraid of the thoughts gnawing at my mind. Afraid of how
much deeper I might plunge into the pit. Afraid of my desire to cease to exist.

I survived. With the help of therapy, medication, a good support system, and God’s grace, the light
slowly dawned. Life gradually became easier, the days less daunting. My mind could focus and process
once again. I could turn loving attention on other people. Sleep was no longer elusive. The sensation of
joy once again took up residence in my heart.

I felt like one of the lucky ones—like I had barely survived my brush with depression’s darkness. I was
thankful to be alive, returned once again to the sun. But I didn’t know what to do with my experience. I
didn’t know what to do with the marks it left on me. I didn’t know what I would do if it returned.

And return it did, this time while I was living abroad, working as an administrator and a housemom in a
home full of foster children. Once again came the darkness, the tears, the exhaustion. Stripped of my
usual support network, I once again needed medication to help me as I clawed toward the light.

Months later, stable but still on this latest round of antidepressants, I found myself in a seminary
classroom scribbling names from church history in the margins of my notebooks. With the battle of
depression still fresh in my mind, I recognized something in my professor’s asides about different
historical figures. These brothers and sisters were like friends whispering to me from centuries past.
They too had been plunged into darkness. They too had been depressed.

So I set out on a journey to get to know them and others like them, and to learn the lessons they might
offer from the darkness.

***

The Role of Faith

At this point, many will start to ask, “But I’m a Christian. Doesn’t my faith play a role when I’m
depressed?”

Yes. I believe the life of faith plays a critical role. But it plays a role similar to what it plays with other
illnesses.

When a family member is diagnosed with cancer, we pray for healing. We find comfort from the truths
in the Bible. We cling to the hope of the gospel—a hope beyond our circumstances. We are open to God
graciously empowering us to grow through the trial. We are surrounded by the support of our faith
community, propped up by our spiritual family. But we also seek good medical care. We take medication
faithfully. We keep our doctor’s appointments and adhere to his or her advice.

So it is with mental illness. My faith can uphold and encourage me in the midst of the trial of depression,
but it does not negate the importance of good medical care. And yes, I pray for God’s healing, but I also
go to the doctor and take my medication faithfully. I tape Bible verses to my wall to see each day, but I
also keep my therapy appointments. I read my Bible, but I also exercise and eat healthy and try to get
rest and surround myself with as much delight as I can muster.

I personally doubt I would have survived my struggles with depression without my faith in Jesus. But it
didn’t stop me from seeing a doctor.

Why We Need These Stories

As I slogged through seasons of depression—and as I’ve looked back on those seasons from more stable footing—I have found the stories and presence of others who have experienced depression to be invaluable. I hear a hint of something I recognize—an aside, a metaphor, a clue that points to those marks left by the darkness—and I zero in on them. There is someone who knows, I think, someone who understands. They, too, have walked through the valley of the shadow of depression.

There’s something about it that binds us, like brothers in arms—the battle we have fought knits us together.

Their stories bring me comfort, reassuring me that I am not alone. They remind me I am not the only one to walk this road, that this experience is not an alien one. The lie that “surely no one has felt this” is cut down by the truth that others, in fact, have, and their presence makes me feel less isolated. These fellow travelers are my companions in the darkness of night.

They offer me wisdom—advice hard-bought on how to survive. On the lessons they learned. Of the tools they gained.

They give me hope—hope that this is not the end of my story, that I, too, will survive this. Hope that depression will not have the last say. I hear their stories of survival and perseverance, and I have hope to keep going, keep fighting, keep doing the hard work of getting well.

*Taken from Companions in the Darkness by Diana Gruver. Copyright (c) 2020 by Diana Janelle Gruver. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com.

You can find Diana’s full book on Amazon or at InterVarsity Press.

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