Depression: I had a choice… I had to take back my life.

Lauren headshotMy slippery slope into depression started in high school. It didn’t begin with feeling sad or isolated, but I remember looking up at my friends from a book I was reading and noticing I was pulling away, before going back to the story. It was an Economics assignment on the stock market that repulsed me so much, that even though I knew the reactions and feelings were illogical, I couldn’t bring myself near it once I threw it on the floor or I felt it would send me into a frenzy of tearing it apart and running away. Knowing something was wrong but not sure what, I sought help from the counsellors and psychologists at school and while the chats were nice it never did seem to touch the problem. I went from close to a straight-A student in year 10 to nearly half failing in year 12. At that point I was still feeling okay, though worried, and recognised I had a problem.

My greater downward spiral started in my second year of uni where I had switched courses to something that I felt might be a little more exciting. A pattern started that plagued all my subsequent attempts at study. I would start out excited and doing well, but gradually through the semester, I would begin to feel anxiety over studying and assignments. My arms would tingle unpleasantly, and I’d feel afraid or repulsed. Assignments would go from being handed in on time, to late, to not done at all by the end of the semester. I restarted the course three times after taking half year breaks, before switching courses again. I restarted that course twice before giving up. For the first five years whenever I had tried again, I had felt optimistic that I had it in hand. The work was not difficult; it was just putting what was in my head down that was the problem.

But after repeated failure, these anxieties led to depression. My anxiety was illogical and it was ruining me academically. I was seeing psychiatrists and psychologists looking for answers or help that I wasn’t getting. I saw a hypnotherapist for a while.

I had been working and that was starting to suffer as well. I became apathetic and socially anxious to the point where I disappeared from work for three months. I could barely bring myself to get out of bed. I felt like I was dying and I wanted to die. Fortunately I was too listless to really seek out a way and had a healthy respect still for pain. I was falling apart mentally and sometimes it made me feel crazy, destructive, wondering if this was reality, if anything mattered. I was sane enough to wish that I could just fall either way into going mad and not caring any more or being whole once more. Being on the fence just tore me apart more. The part of me that didn’t want to care would have taken it out on the world around me until I was permanently stopped, while the clinging sanity still cared enough not to want to hurt anyone. I felt cold and hollow. I was more afraid to live than I was to die.

I was still smiling sometimes. I spoke morbid statements with a smile or as a joke, but really as a call for someone to notice I needed help and to save me. But also so that they could wave it aside as a joke so that I wasn’t a burden.

I was baptised as a baby but my family were non-practicing Catholics. I didn’t know much about our faith beyond the Ten Commandments and how Jesus sacrificed himself for us. But during this time my mum met my Godmum and somehow I found my mum and I started going to Mass. My Godmum organised to get me confirmed and I also went to a retreat for six weeks in Singapore along with her daughters.

I had been searching during this time for a way of life, a purpose, direction, or something to follow, a reason to live and keep going. I’d looked at Buddhism, tarot, and other fortune telling methods. When I was reintroduced to God, somewhere down the line I made the decision that I would believe in Him no matter what. It became a very important and significant promise. Because I chose to follow the Catholic faith I knew I wasn’t allowed to commit suicide. That was one of the things that stopped me taking that step. (The other was unfinished fanfiction. I couldn’t leave without knowing what happened next, could I?) It meant that no matter what was or wasn’t happening, I chose to believe.

Learning more about our faith did bring me more life. It told me God could use me, I had a purpose, I was loved and I was powerful. It taught me to live by loving, that miracles can happen, and that He gave us each gifts to use in His Name. I learnt joy, community and purpose.

Despite all this happening and learning such things though, I was still depressed. I had actually descended into major depression with anxiety. I was seeing a psychologist and started going to the Centre for Clinical Interventions for group Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I was also going regularly to a home based bible sharing group.

I was saved with the help of the three things above. I was saved in a way that is both amazing and isn’t. It was not through a miraculous vision or voice. No visitation or miracle. I would describe the form of my salvation as more of an opening of my mind, an epiphany. Maybe a revelation.

At the Centre for Clinical Interventions we got to a class that spoke of how we needed to make a decision when faced with the day. It was that first step. We had to choose to either get up or give in and stay in bed. What I remember from that class is how we needed to make a choice.

At my psychologist appointment later that day, I had asked a question and I remember that her response was how if I wanted to reach a particular goal then I needed to get off the roundabout. How I was driving around in circles sometimes and I needed to choose a direction and just go.

At the bible sharing session the next day we were going through a program. The presenter’s words struck me in three points. If you cannot say “no” then your “yes” means nothing. The spirit must lead the body, not the body the spirit or you will be enslaved by its wants and desires. You must make a choice, because being undecided leaves nothing but chaos and confusion.

These things didn’t immediately strike me but they percolated in my mind. All this time when I was excitedly asking God to use me, to take over my life, but was also letting my depression beat me into lying in bed all day and doing nothing.

What, exactly, was I offering to God?

I was suicidal and didn’t value my life, basically thought it was worthless. Who offers a God something worthless? Why should I expect God to accept it? I had been crying “yes” to God all this time, but at the same time I could not say “no” to anything else. I couldn’t say “no” to staying in bed, to sin, to being held back by my fears and apathy. I had already given myself over to my sins and depression and anxiety, so I wasn’t even in control of my life in order to offer it in the first place. So, basically, not only was I not offering something of worth, I didn’t even own it to offer! I was offering nothing! No wonder God wasn’t doing anything with me.

If I wanted to give anything to God, first I had to take back my life to offer it to Him. I needed to say “no” where before I felt I didn’t have one.

That was the realisation that turned my life around.

From just that, I was suddenly turned 180 degrees around and lifted out of depression. I felt joyous and excited. I didn’t struggle to get out of bed. I didn’t feel listless and apathetic. From that point on, I began to realise the value of my free will, how powerful it made me, and how much value it could give to things. I had to realise that I made a choice in all things, and that included the bad ones, even the ones I felt were an addiction or a result of depression or anxiety. Even when I felt I didn’t have much of a choice, I had made a choice. Realising I had a choice in all things granted me power back over my life. It helped me realise what I gave value by what I chose and what I relinquished my choice for.

Now five years down the line, my life certainly isn’t spiralling down. I still have difficulties studying or making myself put things down in hardcopy or starting projects. I’m not suicidal or homicidal to any great degree and I still suffer from anxiety. But I can get out of bed. I’m a youth leader to two groups and an active part of my Church community. I know the power of my choices, even the bad ones. I would say that I met God when He opened my mind and His hand is in my life. I don’t regret having gone through that dark period in my life despite my brokenness and lingering challenges, because otherwise I would not know the things I know today, may not know God to the degree I do or have the faith that I do now. I learned that I have a soul and that it is worth saving.

Life is worth fighting for.

A note from CYM: Please remember that everyone’s journey with mental health is different. If you suffer from any mental health problems, please seek professional help. Contact the Mental Health Emergency Response Line in Perth (MHERL) 1300 555 788 or nationally you can contact Lifeline 13 11 14, or Beyond blue 1300 224 636 to start speaking to someone about getting appropriate help for your own recovery too.