This is the story, with no filter, of how I plunged into mental illness…
I was unable to get out of my vehicle. Nailed to the back of the driver’s seat, I could not open the door. It was impossible to keep the torrential tears from running down my face. It had started six months ago when I had tried to clean up the mess left behind by the man whom I had planned my future with. For several months now, I had to pretend to be doing fine in front of my colleagues when I was clearly not doing well at all. And for the past several weeks, I would cry in the car every single morning before stepping into my office. I felt like my dreams had collapsed—I was hurt, broken, betrayed and abandoned.
That morning, filled with confusion and despair, I finally decided to call my supervisor:
“I cannot get out of my car,” I said in the midst of sobs, but my supervisor could not make out my blubbering.
“I can’t get out. I can’t do it anymore,” I told her. I couldn’t stop crying.
“Where are you exactly, Anathalie? Do you want me to come get you?” she asked in a concerned tone.
NO!!! No one could see me in this state. I was so ashamed. Ashamed of having collapsed, ashamed of having begged him to stay, ashamed of believing his promises, and ashamed of my vulnerability. I just couldn’t be seen.
“No, no, I just need to rest a bit. Give me the weekend. I will be fine on Tuesday. I’ll be fine…” I replied.
“Anathalie, you need to see a doctor. You haven’t been yourself in the past little while. I can tell. Please go see a doctor.”
“No, no, it’s not necessary. It will be fine…”
C’mon! Nobody goes to the ER for a heartbreak!
Twenty minutes after she had hung up, I finally managed to start my car, and I went back home.
The following week, I had no choice but to consult a doctor. The few people I had confided in about my episode in the car told me to go to the emergency room at the hospital. I decided to go to the clinic, and when I was admitted, the nurse asked me if I had any suicidal thoughts, and I burst into tears answering yes.
“Do you have a plan? A specific time? A place?” she asked.
The answer to her questions was yes, yes and yes. I then met with the doctor, and she gave me a formal diagnosis: I was going through a major clinical depression. Merely hearing these words out loud made me burst into tears again. I was weak, mentally unstable, and now it had been clinically established. Or at least, that was how I perceived it.
The Misunderstanding from Loved Ones
For obvious reasons, I did not shout this news from the rooftops. I could literally count the number of people who knew about my mental illness on one hand. When I told two of my closest friends about this, one said:
“Oh no, Thalie! Why did you do that to yourself? Why did you give so much power to a man? You’re way too strong for that!”
Then, the other said:
“Well then! Pray on it. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Take the dark thoughts out of your head and get a grip of yourself. Your dark thoughts do not come from God. Pray to drive the evil spirit out!”
Ah! Although these comments were clumsy and did not make me feel better, I knew that my friends were only trying to help… In any case, I decided not to tell anyone else. Not even my closest friends or family knew. At home, I kept away from my family and remained locked in my room all day long. I only ate mini croissants so that I wouldn’t have to leave my room to cook a decent meal. I had become a ghost to my surroundings.
God alienated my family from me;
everyone who knows me avoids me.
My relatives and friends have all left;
houseguests forget I ever existed.
Everyone I’ve ever been close to abhors me;Job 19:13, 20 MSG
my dearest loved ones reject me.
I’m nothing but a bag of bones;
my life hangs by a thread.
Depression, a Mental Illness, As Real As It Gets
What is depression exactly? One thing is certain, it isn’t just a mood swing, the pain from a heartbreak, or a great sorrow. It is a mental illness that will affect one in five people in their lifetime. In my case, it was manifested by the inability to laugh, smile, or feel joy; a chronic physical and emotional fatigue; a drastic weight loss that left me bony and floating in my clothes; significant cognitive impairment (memory loss, speech impediment, difficulty making decisions, inability to concentrate, confusion, etc.); dark thoughts, suicidal thoughts, recurrent obsessive thoughts (ideas in a loop); lack of energy; loss of appetite; insomnia or nightmares; lethargy; isolation; apathy…
But the worst of all—because there is worse than fomenting plans to take one’s life—is death of the soul. I was a whitened corpse, completely dead inside. I did not know who I was or what I believed in. I was an empty shell. I did not know what I liked or what I disliked; my personality no longer existed. I was only breathing in a body that had become foreign to me. The fright and panic I had when I experienced a dissociative episode are unfathomable: I looked at myself from the outside and I did not know who I was watching.
I’m given a life that meanders and goes nowhere—
months of aimlessness, nights of misery!
I go to bed and think, ‘How long till I can get up?’
And so I’m not keeping one bit of this quiet,Job 7:3-4, 11-16 MSG
I’m laying it all out on the table;
my complaining to high heaven is bitter, but honest.
Are you going to put a muzzle on me,
the way you quiet the sea and still the storm?
If I say, ‘I’m going to bed, then I’ll feel better.
A little nap will lift my spirits,’
You come and so scare me with nightmares
and frighten me with ghosts
That I’d rather strangle in the bedclothes
than face this kind of life any longer.
I hate this life! Who needs any more of this?
Let me alone! There’s nothing to my life—it’s nothing
That is what depression looked liked to me. It was me becoming alien to myself. It was like looking in the mirror and not recognizing the person in the reflection. I do not wish this on anyone. Not even my worst enemy.
Anger and Decadence
A month after the diagnosis, an external situation triggered a terrible panic attack. Normally, I tend to stay calm in a stressful situation. It’s one of my greatest strengths. However, this panic attack was the last straw. I gave in. Facing this mountain of an illness, I finally accepted to take medication as a form of treatment.
Despite medical care and therapy, my soul was not getting any better. The deterioration of it almost led me to apostasy (leaving my Christian faith). There were too many unresolved questions. I was mad! I was frustrated with God. The things I told Him… I cannot even repeat them. I was filled with hate. I wanted to hurt myself so that God would suffer; so that God would see how much He had disappointed me; so that God would feel guilty for letting me down. I was in pain and wanted Him to know it. I really wanted to hurt God more than the man who had actually betrayed me.
«Look at me—I shout ‘Murder!’ and I’m ignored;Job 19:7-12, MSG
I call for help and no one bothers to stop.
God threw a barricade across my path—I’m stymied;
he turned out all the lights—I’m stuck in the dark.
He destroyed my reputation,
robbed me of all self-respect.
He tore me apart piece by piece—I’m ruined!
Then he yanked out hope by the roots.
He’s angry with me—oh, how he’s angry!
He treats me like his worst enemy.
He has launched a major campaign against me,
using every weapon he can think of,
coming at me from all sides at once.
Even suppose I’d sinned—how would that hurt you?Job 7 : 17-21 MSG
You’re responsible for every human being.
Don’t you have better things to do than pick on me?
Why make a federal case out of me?
Why don’t you just forgive my sins
and start me off with a clean slate?
The way things are going, I’ll soon be dead.
You’ll look high and low, but I won’t be around.»
However, despite my anger and frustration, God never let me down. He surrounded me with crucial people who supported me throughout my battle. My church was with me, my family too (those who knew). God gave me comfort through the art that I created, and He brought me to an excellent doctor who in turn became my family doctor (Hallelujah!). I was followed by pastors and by a Christian psychotherapist. God was present in the valley of the shadow of death even though I was fleeing from Him.
Submission to the Sovereignty of God
Finally, on February 21, 2018, after a discussion with my pastor, my eyes were opened. My pastor helped me understand that I was pushing aside the only person (God) who could really help me overcome my ordeal. Moreover, he very wisely told me that it was my stubbornness that had led me to where I was now. I realized that it was true.
Although a specific event triggered my depression, it was not this trigger that was the source of my mental illness. Rather, it was the accumulation of many years of frustration against God, my attitude towards Him, my stubbornness in following my own path, bad choices I had made in relationships, the disappointments, and the overwhelming mental and physical fatigue that bred my mental illness. I took for granted that God owed me everything because I gave Him my life; that I was His child; and that I served Him faithfully. In my eyes, when I asked God for something, I had to receive it either immediately or in the near future. After all, it says “ask and you will receive,” does it not? It also says “I’m the head, not the tail. I am at the top and not at the bottom. I am the King’s daughter. I have a royal priesthood…” I was filled with arrogance and pride.
Without realizing it, I thought God was a stooge at my service. In any case, the issue was the attitude I had against Him. Whenever I had not been answered as I expected or whenever things were not going the way I wanted, I was frustrated. Over the years, this frustration accumulated alarmingly. It manifested itself in dissatisfaction, ingratitude, and bitterness towards God. But I did not realize it. It had come to a point where I no longer recognized the sovereignty of God over my life. Instead, I felt suffocated by God’s sovereignty. To give you an example of my thoughts, here is an excerpt from my notebook on June 27, 2017:
• oppressed by the sovereignty of God
• imprisoned in my own existence
• abandoned and fooled by God
• like crap
– I feel like:
• Jonah in the belly of the whale
• Saul punished and cursed by God
– I know that:
• when things go wrong, they can get even worse
• God blesses those that He wants when He wants as He wants
• things will not improve
My stubbornness had led me to these festering thoughts that were repeated in my mind like a broken record. All of my statements were stemmed in frustration and negativity, but when you are blinded by pride, your beliefs can be false, as well as your reasoning. Resentment and pride led me to believe all of these lies that had unfortunately become a truth for me. I had to be broken in order to recognize the love and the goodness of God; to understand that His Sovereignty is benevolent. It is not punishment, nor prison, nor handcuffs. In fact, it is by lovingly obeying His ways that I am truly free. Not otherwise.
Prepared in the Suffering
In the end, depression was not just a painful ordeal. It was a defining season of my life. In suffering, God revealed himself to me as a Father. He carried me, He sought for me, He healed me despite the lies I believed. Despite the fact that I rejected him, He never stopped loving me. Although I do not wish for anyone to go through the path that I have gone through, I recognize that suffering prepared me for ministry. Also, He made me a much better person, open to others and to the work of Christ in people’s lives. Today, I thank God for the journey we have gone through together over the last two years.
“Papa, I pray for the person who is reading this text today. I beg you to reveal yourself to them as you have revealed yourself to me. I beg you to communicate the extravagant love that you have for them. Make it so that in their suffering, they are not fooled by the lies of the enemy, but that they can keep their eyes fixed on your love and what you have brought to their lives today. May they continue to believe that in all things, you desire their good. Amen!“
Still, I know that God lives—the One who gives me back my life—Job 19:25-27 MSG
and eventually he’ll take his stand on earth.
And I’ll see him—even though I get skinned alive!—
see God myself, with my very own eyes.
Oh, how I long for that day!