As an Interior Designer, I love seeing the final outcome of a design. Its amazing to compare the “after” to the “before” picture and see exactly how far we’ve come. I find it easy and rewarding to show off these before and after sequences. I get lots of praise and acclaim for them. But it’s not so easy to just show off the “befores”. The “befores” are ugly, raw, and messy. They are not something a Designer would show off – at least not without an “after” to go with it. After all, I’m crafting a portfolio of my work to garner me praise, respect and potential clients. I don’t want anything that isn’t stunningly beautiful in my portfolio. So I hide away the “befores” until I have a perfect “after” photo to go with them.
The truth is that we are all crafting stunningly beautiful portfolios of our lives. It’s easy and rewarding for us to show off the polished parts – the joys, the achievements, the “afters” next to the unattractive “befores”. But many times we find ourselves stuck inside a “before” – an ugly, real, raw moment of life – and all we are seeing in others is their beautiful “after”.
It’s painful to sit in a “before” and see only a highlight reel of our friend’s “afters”. It leaves us feeling alone, isolated, like we are the only one going through this horrible “before”. So we hide the painful and broken. We don’t talk about the depression, the miscarriage, the job loss, or the failures. And we go on carefully crafting our portfolios so only the attractive is shown.
It’s ok to share the joys in life. But it’s also ok to talk about our “befores”. I’m excited for my friends when they get pregnant. I’m even more thrilled for the ones who I know have struggled with infertility. Their “before” makes the “after” so much more wonderful. So I want to share with you today my “before”. I want you to know that it hasn’t all been easy. I want you to know that if you’re stuck in a “before”, you’re not the only one.
I started my career as an Interior Designer in the midst of the recession in 2009. I got one job interview out of college and that led to one job offer. So I took it. At 22-years-old, I began working for an Architecture firm in Atlanta. I spent the next five years working on jobs for clients like Starbucks, Belk, Hertz, and Toys-R-Us, creating the stores you shop in today. I spent some months driving across the Midwest for work, others playing Ice Road Truckers in a 2-wheel drive car in the mountains of Northwest Canada. I was good at my job and I learned a lot about design and construction while working there. But there was something bigger going on behind the scenes in my life.
In the eyes of the world, I had a near perfect life. I had my own apartment, food to fill my belly, and friends to fill my facebook feed. Yet, a darkness plagued me.
Each day, morning would come despite my pleas. I would roll my body across my bed and onto the floor. Pain was the only thing that could shock me enough to face reality. I would crawl toward the shower and let the water drip down my face to hide my tears. I hate myself. I want to die. These thoughts became the soundtrack to my day.
Around those I loved most, the voices told me I was worthless, unlovable, and unwanted. They told me I was going crazy and that no one around me noticed. My mood became sullen, my attitude withdrawn. I wanted answers. I wanted someone to tell me what was going on. I wanted someone to understand the growing darkness inside me. But no answers came. And the worst silence I received came not from those around me, but from God.
I had faced affliction before, and God had always been a constant figure to turn to for help. But this time, God was not there. In church, I cried tears of abandonment while others praised a God that was faithful. I couldn’t reconcile in my brain how God’s Word told me He would never leave me and yet, He had left me. I lost faith in everything I had grown up believing because I couldn’t feel God’s presence. And this led to one inevitable conclusion in my mind – that God was a liar. I felt like God was an Artist who had promised to paint a beautiful portrait of my life. Yet, day after day, He didn’t show up to paint. And I thought, “He’s a scam artist.”
It was during this time that I first encountered the word Depression. Me? Depressed? What did I have to be depressed about? What did I even have to be sad about? In truth, my education about Depression and mental illness came from commercials for anti-depressants showing stick figures walking around with clouds over their heads. I thought that Depression was one big scam for pharmaceutical companies to sell miracle meds to lazy people.
I don’t think there is a soul in the world that can say exactly what is happening in a depressed person’s brain. There is research about chemical imbalances in the brain and serotonin levels. But the best way I can explain it is this: Depression starts with a physical malfunction in the brain that is irritated by outside influences causing the inner self to believe and experience false emotions and truths. At least, that’s what it was for me.
My Depression was like a shadow that came over me, a darkness that rested on my mind. It was an illness I couldn’t escape because it originated inside me. It began in the emptiness of my apartment. It was irritated by lies the evil one whispered to me. And it forced me to conclude that I was alone, unloved, abandoned. In my darkest of days, I isolated myself from all my friends. I spiraled down into despair, anger, and bitterness. And it was then that death whispered its sweet temptation of freedom.
What stopped me from killing myself? It wasn’t the fear of death. It was the fear of not dying. I didn’t want to wake up the next day. I wanted a guarantee that if I attempted it, it would work. I wanted out of this life. I wanted to die. But I had no guarantee. So my life and the depression continued. At night, I would curse God. I would lay on the floor and yell obscenities at Him. I hated Him for abandoning me in my time of need. I hated that He refused to give me relief in therapy or medicine. I hated Him and cursed at Him in hope of eliciting some form of response from Him. Still none came. God had promised never to leave me and yet He was not there. How could this be?
I succumbed to the storm of Depression. I let it overflow the rivers of my mind and break the dams that kept the waters at bay. Behaviors and actions that weren’t normal to me nor acceptable in society came spilling out. I wasn’t myself. And I didn’t know where to turn for help. I told myself that my friends didn’t care. I told myself that God had abandoned me. I lived not by what I knew to be true or saw was true, but rather by what I felt.
Finally, a break came one night. Finally, I hit rock bottom after falling for years. Finally, I came to the point of choosing between death and getting help. By the grace of God, I chose to reach out for help. It wasn’t easy. Admitting I needed help felt like failure. Going to counseling felt like failure. Getting on medication felt like failure. And relief from the depression didn’t happen over night. It was months of torture on different medications before I could sense a little light in my life. It was years of counseling to work through the damage depression had brought to my life. And even to this day, it’s a constant struggle to fight it from taking over again.
I wouldn’t wish what I went through on my worst enemy, but I wouldn’t change my story for anything. My depression caused me to question my reason for living. But through it, I found purpose. My depression caused me to question my faith. But through it, I found grace.
“For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer. Isaiah 54:7-8
I love this passage in Isaiah. I love that God owns that He turned His back on His people. BUT He had not forsaken them. I love that He admits that He hid His face from them. BUT He returned swiftly to them to show mercy. You see, when God allows His people to continue long in time of trouble, the enemy often sneaks in. He picks at a bleeding wound. He construes the truth. He whispers lies of betrayal and abandonment. And as the bleeding continues, His people grow weary, their cries turn bitter, and they begin to listen to the lies.
That’s what happened in my life. I was bleeding and yet my Father would not rescue me. I was adopted by God, yet it seemed He had refused me. I was told my life would be a beautiful portrait, yet the Artist hadn’t shown up. I was left confused and in agony as to why God had hidden His face from me. I listened to the whispers that said God had forsaken me. I let my emotions overrun me to the point of despair and death. How sweet, though, was the return of His mercy. How refreshing His comfort when He came near again. Notice what Isaiah’s passage says? “For a brief moment”. Yes, our afflictions feel like an eternity while we are in them, but they are not forever. God will return swiftly to us. The Artist will show up to finish His masterpiece.
And that’s what God did for me. He returned to me. He comforted me. How humbling it is to come before a God that you have spit upon and forsaken and lashed out against, and to see His open arms waiting for you. This is love. This is forgiveness. How wonderful it is to see God transform you through the pain to give you a purpose and a mission, to make you stronger and better equipped for the road ahead.
My depression isn’t over. I’m not cured of my physical ailments, my unbelief, or relieved of Satan’s attacks. Over the last few years, I have experienced the return of God’s presence and His departure again. I still cry over the pain His absence caused me. It’s still hard to pray to Him and praise Him. I still have to remind myself of the truth. I have to tell my inward self that God has not forsaken me, and that His steadfast love will not depart from me. I still have to refute the outward enemy and speak the truth that God’s covenant of peace shall not be removed. I still have to remind my emotional self that the Lord wants me to sing and rejoice because He is always present. I still have to fight not to descend into despair and doubt when I’m not on God’s agenda that day.
Every day is a battle with inward and outward enemies – whether you have Depression or not. We all struggle in different ways, but we all struggle. Let’s not be afraid to share those struggles. Let’s put up our “before” pictures and own that we are a work in progress. Let’s share the pain as well as the joys in life.
If you’re struggling right now, I want you to know that you are not alone. That’s why I shared my “before” with you. Would you share yours with me? Drop a comment or send me an e-mail. I’d love to hear your story, your struggle, your “before”. It may just serve to encourage someone around you.