By Abigail Voigt
When I was growing up, sadness was just an emotion to me. A feeling that was fleeting and brief. Just like joy, anger, surprise and peace, it was a feeling that came and went — never domineering or all-encompassing. It was simple and still safe.
Now, I’m older. And the sadness I know is of a different kind. This sadness is uncontrollable. It overtakes me. This sadness isn’t just a feeling or an emotion. It’s a monster. It’s a shadow. It’s scary.
About two years ago, I started suffering from depression. A series of catastrophic and difficult events began to plague my life around that time and this planted the seed for the overwhelming shadow.
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I still remember that time in my life so vividly.
Just choose happiness, I thought, It’s not that hard.
But, I didn’t understand.
It is that hard.
You don’t choose or control depression.
It controls you.
It’s such a different type of sadness. It’s rooted so deep. So far within me, yet, so heavy. It’s a weight. A cloud. A shadow on your heart. Some days it feels like I should just be able to reach into my chest and rip the pain and the sadness right out. The panic, the anxiety, the heaviness — it feels so tangible. Why can’t it just be removed?
All of me screamed that I wanted to get up in the morning with a smile on my face and accomplish great feats and goals. But, when I rolled over in the morning and opened my eyes, the weight kept me down. It glued me to the bed. It made everything seem impossible.
I lost 20 pounds in two months. I tried my best to eat, but more often than not I would just forget. Sometimes a whole day would pass by before I remember.
Depression made “failure” a repeating word in my brain. It made it difficult not to see failure in everything I tried to do. Failure to sleep. Failure to eat. Failure to feel joy. Failure to be at peace. Failure to dictate my own emotions. And I hated it.
“All of me screamed that I wanted to get up in the morning with a smile on my face and accomplish great feats and goals. But, when I rolled over in the morning and opened my eyes, the weight kept me down.”
This failure to be in control of the depression creates an unbearable and deeply rooted self-hate. And hate and depression feed off of each other. They thrive together.
Every day I wondered how much more I could bear. I wondered how I could become this way. I wondered if the medications or the counselors would help. I wondered why I couldn't just escape the shadow or choose to be free. I wished that I could love myself again. That I could love life. That I could find joy in the big and little things. I prayed hard. I asked God to heal me. I begged Him to lift the weight and remove the shadow. I cried out for Him to give me joy in the sadness.
I know my God. I know that He is great and mighty. And, I even know that in the midst of this darkness, His love prevails. Even when I can’t always feel it, I know it’s there. My God is greater than the shadow. And, while it seemed like a never-ending eternity, I was confident in His saving grace that would someday break the chains that bound my heart and soul.
Depression feels like it will never end. It feels hopeless. It feels scary. It feels lonely. It makes you feel as though you’re hanging on by nothing more than a thread.
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More than two years later, I can now say that it is the seasons of life where you are “hanging on by nothing more than a thread” where you grow and learn the most. For me, that season of darkness brought forth the growth of new life and inner light I never would have seen without the darkness.
Yet, the darkness was still really messy. Deeply wounded and weak, my prayers to God at my darkest often involved the shaking of an “angry fist” as I was drowning in my own tears and grief. I knew cognitively that God had to be at work, but I couldn’t tangibly feel Him in this time like I could my sadness. Slowly though, I felt God pushing me to look in other places — not in how I was feeling, but in what I could see Him doing. It was in the unconditional love and kindness of family and friends where I started to see God’s gracious and loving heart for me. His providence and care were overwhelming as He used others to carry me from the shadows.
My life really began to change when He provided opportunities for my story — my battle, my struggle — to be shared with others. As the darkest of my dark was brought to light — I watched it bring forth not death, but life.
I know there’s no quick fix for depression. No magical word or medication to take it all away. But, there is hope. Hope that there is much more to life than darkness. Hope that counseling, medications and prayer might be weapons in your battle. And, hope that our lives, our stories, our struggles carry so much more life than they do death.
I still struggle with depression sometimes. But, its shadow is no match for my overwhelming light.
Abigail Voigt is a recent ministry and psychology grad from a university in Saint Paul, MN. She loves tulips, travel and rainy days.