On September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, I, like many of you, read the news that Jarrid Wilson had taken his own life. I didn’t know Jarrid, but his death made national news—and reached my computer screen—because he was an associate pastor of a California mega-church and because he and his wife had co-founded Anthem of Hope, “a mental health organization dedicated to amplifying hope for those battling brokenness, depression, anxiety, self-harm, addiction and suicide.”
I didn’t know Jarrid, but I know people like him, people who struggle with depression . . . people like me.
That’s not easy for me to write. I think of myself as a private person. I think of myself as someone who’s in control and even-keeled. But life is too short, sometimes much too short, to keep putting off openness and honesty for some other day.
I am inspired by those whom I’ve seen walk a path of vulnerability. Some are contributors at this site, such as Abby, who writes about her bipolar disorder. Ann discusses her depression in a post on meditation. And Marilyn blogs, “I have never spoken openly about my depression. In fact, this piece is the first piece I’ve ever written about the dark feelings that threatened to consume me.”
This is a first for me, too.
It wasn’t until I returned from the mission field that I was diagnosed with depression, but looking back, I can see that it was present while I was overseas, minus the name. I waited as long as I could to let it become official, based on years of trusting in my own strength and shaking my head at the presumed weakness of others. I remember when my younger self, confronted with someone who told me he had depression, said, “Why does he have to be depressed. Why can’t he just be sad?” I remember seeing a friend’s prescription bottle and smugly thinking, “Not me.”
Since then, I’ve learned that depression is more than sadness, and getting treatment is not a cause for shame. I should have known that long before, but I hadn’t sought out and listened to the right voices.
When Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson revealed his depression in February of this year, he did it from a very visible platform—the Canterbury Pulpit in Washington National Cathedral. In his sermon he tells about being hospitalized just two weeks earlier because of “this insidious chronic disease.” He defines depression as “a malfunction of the instrument we use to determine reality.”
“The brain,” he says, “experiences a chemical imbalance and wraps a narrative around it. So the lack of serotonin in the mind’s alchemy becomes something like ‘Everyone hates me.’ Over time, despair can grow inside you like a tumor.”
Gerson, a former presidential speech writer, is an eloquent wordsmith, and the imagery that he calls up—of a brain disruption clothed in an invented reality—resonates with me. I often wake up in the morning filled with dread, with my mind racing from negative thought to negative thought, searching haphazardly for reasons for the heaviness. And I can always come up with a multitude of reasons.
I have a tendency to forget things, but when it comes to my own shortcomings, missteps, and failures, no matter how long ago, I have a photographic memory. Add to that the stinging words I imagine my friends and coworkers and family members would say to me if they were completely honest, and I’ve found my narrative. Sometimes those dark mornings turn into dark days.
On my darkest days, my faults were all I saw when I looked in the mirror. On my darkest days, the part of my thinking that knew that image wasn’t true was silenced. On my darkest days, I didn’t want to kill myself, but I didn’t want to be alive.
I still have dark days, but it’s been several years since my darkest. I credit the God-given graces of medication, friendship, wise counsel, empathy, and unconditional love. But I can’t say that in the equilibrium of my mind all is now well and forever shall be.
As widely reported in articles about Jarrid Wilson’s death, last month he posted on Instagram: “I’m a Christian who also struggles with depression. This exists, and it’s okay to admit it.”
If only admitting the struggle were a cure-all. It’s not, but it can lead to healing. Admitting the struggle isn’t the whole journey, but it is a step in a necessary direction.
What if I had made that admission while working abroad? What would I have lost? What would I have gained? How would it have affected my family? Would we have shortened our time overseas? Would we have ended up staying longer? I simply don’t know the answers.
Nevertheless, I wish my some other day had come earlier. I wish I could have understood sooner what was going on inside my head and shared it with those around me. I wish I could have, back then, opened the door to let light into my darkness and to be able to speak into the darkness of others, “You’re not alone.”
(Marilyn Gardner, “Depression and the Third Culture Kid,” Communicating across Boundaries, December 27, 2016; Michael Gerson, “February 17, 2019: Sunday Sermon” Washington National Cathedral; Jarrid Wilson, Instagram post, August 17, 2019)