Soul-Care After an Unexpected Descent Into Depression

Without warning, I found my mental state rapidly shifting. For one week in late March, it seemed to spin out of my control. Increasing anxiety gripped my soul, its force building stronger each day. Suddenly, the anxiety transformed into a deep depression. Never had I felt such a heaviness pressing upon me.  After a few days, the weight lifted.

Making sense of it left me pondering: Why now? I had been treated for anxiety and depression for the last 15 years. For most of that period, my moods remained stable. Any shifts lasted only a few days. Through medication and therapy, I learned to manage my illnesses. However, this time, I felt blindsided; the symptoms appeared unexpectedly. Even though I was exhausted, the experience left me puzzled.

The season had promised stability for my family. In the last decade, we had fought multiple storms: two job losses, sudden health issues, and financial instability.  New problems appeared on the heels of the one before. But now, circumstances gave way to breathing room. Despite my husband’s second job loss, our family embraced the gift of peace that ensued. God had released him from a stressful situation and had provided generously for our needs. In addition, the health of each of us had stabilized. For the first time in nearly a decade, we could rest. So what would have contributed to my breakdown?

As I shared my experience with a friend, she observed that perhaps our family’s respite had allowed my brain and body to “let go.” Perhaps the overwhelming stimulation to my brain was too much for it to handle. A window of rest opened up and my brain longed for refuge. My nurse practitioner agreed.

Before my breakdown, I’d spent years of fighting healthcare bureaucracy, caring for kids with mental and physical health issues, enduring devastating losses and financial difficulties. In addition, my personality and skill set naturally make me want to care for others.

We are all created with different stress thresholds. All of us use different tools to stay resilient: some healthy, some not so much. For my unique design, many factors lined up to create a dangerous combination. In the aftermath, I consulted with my psychiatrist, friends and my God. What steps might I take to care for my soul?

Invite others into my brokenness.

I realized that I tend to avoid asking for help. Often, I share stories from my life to encourage others. Lifting up prayer requests for burdens on my heart also comes easily. But inviting others to walk with me in those messy parts? That makes me uncomfortable.

However, my friends demonstrated to me the communion that takes place when we, like the paralyzed man lowered down to Jesus, dare to place ourselves in the hands of other people. Sometimes our “wellness” obstructs the path to Jesus. When we quickly resolve our problems on our own without seeking God’s direction, we miss opportunities to see Jesus working through others. The paralyzed man had to depend completely on his friends. Unfortunately, my posture of self-reliance created isolation.

When my friends asked for help, I felt inspired by their courage. They broke through the American ideal of independence. They trusted that those in their circle would love them in the deepest ways possible. And I felt honored to be a part of it.

Ann Voskamp writes of her own fears of vulnerability in The Broken Way, “I’ve lived given into people’s brokenness. But I’m not sure I’ve known what it means to live given—actually giving my own brokenness? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it as clearly as right now—being broken and given—means trusting enough to be vulnerable—and give your own brokenness.” My experiences responding to the intentional pleas of friends opened my eyes to the blessing found in acknowledging vulnerability.

Glean wisdom from Jesus’ life.

In the quest to follow after Jesus, we know the scriptural accounts of Jesus’ public interactions such as his exhortations, teachings and acts of healing. We long to imitate his actions. But what about his private moments?

Jesus sometimes chose to isolate himself. By doing so, he recognized the need to commune with the source of his power: His Father. But that meant that not everyone who desired to receive his healing or stand in his presence did. He was not present for everyone.

Grasping that reality is hard. It doesn’t fit with the common narrative of the Jesus who made himself available to attend to the needs of all. What does it mean for his disciples if even Jesus trusted God to accomplish the tasks he did not complete?

Currently, I find myself in a place of uncertainty. My husband’s severance package ends soon and no jobs appear to be forthcoming before the deadline. The temptation to frantically leap toward a quick, self-manufactured solution lurks. Yet, I hear God whispering, “be still and know I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

I am learning to embrace God’s provision in unexpected ways. My husband and I are praying and discerning our next steps. We are reminded of God’s goodness as we reflect on the answer to prayer which we received in March. In addition, I have invited others to walk this foggy place with us. In the midst, I am learning to trust God and others.

Stephanie Thompson
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