When I met Laura Peterson for the first time at a writing workshop in Alaska, I knew we would become good friends. She is warm, funny, positive, loves her husband and their two daughters with abandon and she talks really, really fast. But she can slow. When she reads or hears something touching, she tears easily, which makes her all the more endearing. I asked Laura to write a piece about her experience with depression because we both have been in dark spaces that many, thankfully, will never know. Our desire is to expand awareness of true depression’s seriousness and help those who suffer know they are not alone. Our God never leaves us or forsakes us. It’s an honor and pleasure to welcome Laura today.
by Laura Peterson
We sun-starved souls in the Seattle area are reveling in a breathtaking Indian summer. Chilly fog-shrouded mornings give way to cloudless skies and surprisingly warm days. By afternoon, we are peeling off layers of clothing and trying to remember where we left our sunglasses. We lift palm-protected eyes upward and jest among ourselves, “What is that bright yellow ball in the sky?”
While I am relishing these fleeting days of autumn’s favor along with the rest of the city, many people in my life are trapped in the darkness of their own private winters. They have been there for awhile, without the rest that comes from a carefree summer, without a date they can circle to mark the first day of spring.
This week three men are on my mind, three men in very different stages of their lives. This strikes me as odd because my dealings with this kind of internal darkness have been primarily with women. But this week it is the men that capture my thoughts and call me to my knees in fervent prayer.
My mind turns to my dear friend Walt, the neighborhood bastion of strength, who now sits in a wheelchair after an accident robbed him of his retirement. He is trapped in a paralyzed body after a lifetime of service to others. With his body still, only his mind is left to wander… and it often goes to some very dark places.
I think of Justin, in the middle part of his life, who will soon be moving to Africa to work as a Bible translator. This is his lifelong aspiration and yet he feels no joy. I pray that he will not be rendered inert by powerful feelings of self-loathing that hound him incessantly.
Then there is Ryan, a sophomore in high school, who sits in the psych ward at Children’s Hospital after a friend received his suicidal text. Ryan is convinced, even at this young age, that he has no future.
Depression has wrapped its heavy mantle of despair around these men, choking the very life out of them and making them feel unworthy of God’s favor.
I know what this place feels like because I’ve lived through my own battle with internal darkness. Even as I stand in the light of a new season, my memories lie just below the surface. Raw emotions threaten to bubble forth if I let them.
For those who have never experienced this place of despair, depression can be an elusive concept. Many kind-hearted people who genuinely desired my healing often threw out band-aide–type solutions to my “problem.”
“Make a list of the blessings in your life.”
“Take up a new hobby/ job/ service project to take your mind off things.”
“Think about only positive things.”
“Spend more time with God.”
Comments like these left me feeling misunderstood and isolated from the people in my life. How I longed for one empathic friend to pull me close and say, “I’ve been there myself; I get it.” Instead, I discovered that most people could not relate to my inner struggle.
It doesn’t help that the word “depression” is tossed around so casually in everyday conversation. We often hear…
“The news depresses me.”
“After all that studying, I’m depressed by the grade I received in my class.”
Or simply, “I feel depressed today.”
If we attribute the word “depression” to that deflated feeling we all get when circumstances don’t go our way, what word, then, should we use for that bone-crushing, hope-zapping, relentless attack on our personhood?
Perhaps we need a new word, or better yet, a completely new set of words. Here’s how I would define internal darkness:
It’s using ninety percent of your mental energy to ward of the barrage of negative thoughts that threaten to grind you to the ground. It’s trying desperately to hang on to your sanity despite irrational thoughts that somehow seem reasonable: “I wonder what it would be like to pull into oncoming traffic?” or “Wouldn’t it be nice to go to sleep and never wake up?”
It’s moving through your day feeling like your bones have been crushed from an emotional bus that keeps backing up to run you over again and again. Your true self has gone missing and no one else seems to have noticed. What’s left is a shell of a person that you don’t even recognize.
You believe the lie that you are alone, a hallow soul, that no one truly sees you and the depths of your despair. I don’t know a single word that encompasses all that. Do you?
The English language, in all its breath and complexity, has failed us here.
Thankfully, God’s Word is limitless, unbound by time or place or human vocabulary.
God’s Word tells us that we are worthy, that we are loved without limit, that we are fully known and that we belong. The Scriptures revive us. They speak Truth into our lives … if only we have the audacity to believe them.
Do we believe them?
When I sat in that place of blackest despair, I would read passages like Romans 8:1—
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”—and wonder,
Why, then, do condemning messages torment me all day long?
I would read John 8:32—“Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free”—and think,
I know God’s Word, so why am I still in bondage?
My healing began the moment I realized that a great battle between Truth and falsehood was raging inside my mind and that I needed to actively participate in the fight.
But how could I fight when I was so worn out from living? And how, exactly, do I fight back?
Our spiritual armor is laid out for us in Ephesians 6: We must put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, and the shoes of readiness. We are instructed to take up the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit.
That last piece, the sword of the Spirit, is our only offensive weapon. It is God’s Word, a complete arsenal of weaponry specifically designed to combat Satan’s lies.
It’s not enough to KNOW God’s Word; we have to USE it.
In my case, medication gave me a much needed boost of mental energy to step into the fight each day and the space to begin learning how to use God’s Word effectively.
In her study Breaking Free, Beth Moore says, “We can change the way we think, and that will change the way we feel.”
She taught me to change the way I thought by utilizing God’s Truth.
She encouraged me to walk through my darkest days with a stash of index cards at my side. These Truth Cards (as she calls them) were filled with God’s powerful Word, Truth that I could read, speak, and lean on every time a lie passed through my head.
Whenever the Devil tried to flatten me with a lie, my orders were to rebuke him verbally and then fling a Truth-filled Scripture back at Him. This is what Jesus Himself did when He was tempted in the desert. This is what we, as His followers, need to do today. This is what it means to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Colossians 10:5).
After a season of effectively using God’s Word as my spiritual weapons, the battle lines began to shift.
No longer was I sitting alone in the darkness; I was standing and raising my sword and cooperating with the Holy Spirit and running headlong into the battle. Not only did I believe God’s Truth, but I clung to it for dear life. God’s Word changed the way I thought about my world, about my Creator, and about myself. And eventually, spring made a long overdue appearance.
About Laura . . .
As a travel writer for The Best Places to Kiss series, Laura Peterson has thoroughly canvassed the Pacific Northwest in search of romantic destinations. She eventually became managing editor of the travel series (Beginning Press), which also includes guides for California and Hawaii. She was a contributing author to Her Fork in the Road: Women Celebrate Food and Travel (Travelers’ Tales, 2001); and has worked as a volunteer writer for Medical Teams International, an NGO that aids those affected by poverty, conflict, and disaster around the world.
Laura currently lives outside of Seattle with her husband and two daughters.