Recently, I had an appointment at a hospital with a psych-counsellor. The purpose was to determine whether or not I need psychiatric help, or counselling, or not. A one hour scheduled chat stretched into two hours, involved surprise tears on my part (I seldom ever cry in front of people I don’t know well, let alone total strangers) and an in-depth retelling of my life’s story, focused especially on the latter half.
I left the building shaking visibly after thanking the doctor for her time and tossing a crumbled, mangled handful of tissue in the trash bin. The steady familiar sound of my husband’s voice on the other end of the phone did wonders to calm me down by the time I reached the bus stop bench, but I still felt shattered the rest of the day, as if I’d done mental gymnastics rather than just sit and talk for two hours. In a way, that’s exactly what I had done.
The final verdict is that I do not need psychiatric help. Not that I’m surprised. I am not crazy, nuts, bonkers, psychotic, delusional. No voices in my head besides my own and occasionally the echo of my mother. No disproportionate paranoia. However, I am quite obviously an unusual person who has survived an unusual quantity of tough events in my almost-31 years of born life, and it is not really any surprise that depression has been a recurrent feature for me over the years.
This is not to say that my depression is not physically based. The brain makes changes on a very real, physical, clinically-measurable basis in response to feelings and external factors. Some people experience clinical depression that does not seem to have any apparent external trigger. Their brain chemicals fizz out of whack, sending them spiralling from feeling great, coping well, and experiencing a successful life, wildly down into bleak apathy of relentless low mood. These people have real physical symptoms first. Their depressive mood is still real. The feelings are still real. I, on the other hand, have more obvious external life triggers. I have experienced some disastrous, challenging, self-shaking events in my wonderful, God-blessed life, and the emotions triggered by those events are real. The physical changes in my brain as a result of those emotions are also still real, also still subject to medical alteration and perhaps improvement with the right drugs. And a quality of depression which is true for all those who experience a depressive disorder, whether triggered first by an internal physical change or by an external crisis, is healing can be facilitated or inhibited by how we choose to think. Medication can help. Counselling and talking therapy can help. Group therapy and community support can help. For everybody, though, our personal choices over thinking patterns dictate a great proportion of re-patterning brain synapse connections for positivity and uplifted mood versus perpetual depression.
My life has been crazy. Wonderful crazy. Sometimes insane crazy. I feel like taking a Paul moment. Want to know everything I’ve been through?
I was conceived in rape. I was born to a perseverant but underweight and emotionally wounded single teenage mother.
My (adoptive) dad met my mum when I was 1 1/2 years old and they married when I was 2. That marriage involved an immediate culture change with an international move. Two years later, we moved internationally again, underwent a family court case where my biological “father” sought custody of me (he lost), and then again moved internationally some years after that.
I was then bullied at school enough to provoke removal from the school system and was educated at home for several years. My mother began to experience various serious health problems around this time, which went on to involve many surgeries over the following decade.
When my family made a move as teacher-missionaries to a third world country, I spent an academic year in a new school mid-teens experiencing fickle friendships, bullying, and local societal contempt towards my gender, and a fractured coccyx. My parents were concerned for my well-being and sent me back to my country of birth to live with a grandparent while completing my last two years of schooling. There, I lived with a recently bereaved man undergoing radiation treatment for an illness, was often on my own, and had trouble connecting with my peers both in school and at church. I spent a largely solitary two years. Depression and concerning eating patterns set in with noticeable force during this time, and I struggled intermittently with both throughout a gap year and 3 years of university.
During university, my biological “father” contacted me wanting relationship, triggering my first anxiety attacks. The year after graduating, I quit my graduate teacher training course due to anxiety and stress.
The year I got married, I planned an entire wedding by myself as my mother was recovering from an operation a few weeks before the wedding date, and my fiancé was in another country. I then moved countries yet again to be with my husband.
The year after that, I experienced two physically challenging miscarriages which resulted in not only depression but also some other health battles. After conceiving my son, I struggled not to miscarry, and then barely weeks after relief from miscarriage symptoms and finally into a stable pregnancy was diagnosed with a bone condition that caused pain and difficulty walking throughout the duration of the pregnancy.
Then my son was born colicky and screamed for basically the first 4 months of his born life. Craziness. The following year, my mother-in-law died, a treasure of a woman who I called Mom and whose loss cut deeply in many ways.
And then, oh yes then, we moved internationally again, as a family of me, husband, and son, and in the past year we have been fighting a legal battle trying to acquire a long stay visa for my husband. In the meantime, I have a job while he cannot work, whilst we are also pursuing medical treatment for my depression and trying to find the right medication and therapy. My current job is fairly brainless but not bad at all, but I have developed RSI in my wrists in the time I’ve been working there and lately I find typing easier than to write with a pen.
I have had a crazy life. 6 international moves. Job upheaval. Bullying. Illness. Pain. Severed friendships. Bereavement. Yes, I have experienced some incredible, wonderful, joyful, blissful things in my life. I am blessed! I have a BA to my name, a faithful husband, a healthy child. I have parents who have proven willing to support us through bad times and good, in financial ways as well as through prayer. I have some dear international friends, in my two home countries and further afield, who cherish our family. I have a most unusual story and a strong, dear family, and I have had a crazy life involving a fair bit of pain and hardship.
And yet… And yet. Resilience. There is the key word. I am resilient.
I was greatly encouraged to have several counsellors and psychiatrists agree, after discussing me post-interview, that despite a fiercely unusual life and many trials, even despite poor self-learned habits and coping mechanisms, I am resilient. That’s the word they used. One doctor even phoned me later to ensure I heard this feedback from them. She was right; it was needed and helpful.
Resilience. “Leaping back”, from the Latin verb, resilire. Able to spring, leap, rebound back into shape after bending, stretching, or compression. This word was not introduced into the English language until the 17th century, and so we do not find the precise word in the bible. But there are descriptions of qualities of resilience in the bible, nevertheless.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God. (Isaiah 43 v 2)
Be strong and courageous. (Joshua 1 v 9, Psalm 31 v 24)
Stand firm and let nothing move you. (1 Corinthians 15 v 58)
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline. (2 Timothy 1 v 7)
Do not fear; I will help you. (Isaiah 41 v 13)
In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8 v 37)
We earnestly and patiently await the Lord Jesus Christ Savior, who will transform and fashion anew [us] to be like the body of His glory. (Philippians 3 v 20-21)
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Ephesians 6 v 10)
I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28 v 20)
God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way… (Psalm 46 v 1-2)
I know whom I have believed, and he is able to keep me… (2 Timothy 1 v 12)
The common theme is not of our own power, not of our own so strong ability or faith or endurance. It is of God’s presence, God’s power. God’s endurance and faithfulness. Not, “if you walk”, but when you walk through the fire, you will not be set ablaze because the Lord your God is with you.
Therein lies my hope. Therein lies my cure. It is not that I am so strong that I bounce back unusually well. It is not that I am more greatly protected from hardship by my faith. I am not somehow better than other people who experience lesser hardship and find themselves more broken. I am scarred in places you will never see, some even of my own doing, some by others, and it was determined that talking therapy would be beneficial to my full recovery from depression, along with the medication I am currently taking. But I know whom I have believed, and HE IS ABLE to keep me resilient, to give me a well-balanced mind, to help me in trouble, to be with me. To help me bounce back into shape.