Depression is a monster, a foul beast that creeps into the mind, a storm that torments the soul, wreaking havoc, and destroying hope. I struggle with that beast daily. My name is April, a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with depression and anxiety.
Ephesians 4:29 states, “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to others.” I hope that my story can provide some hope and encouragement. I was born the last day of June, on a Sunday. During my mother’s pregnancy with me, the doctors had told her that I was going to be born mentally disabled because at 8 months, I had stopped growing. My father, at that time, did not believe that I was his. At 19 years of age, with my father disbelieving I was his, and my mother struggling with depression, my mother still decided to keep me and raise a child who was to be mentally disabled. Unfortunately for that doctor, his diagnosis was completely wrong.
Once I was born there was no denying that I was my father’s child because I looked just like him. Through most of my childhood my parents struggled to make ends meet, causing stress and tension in the household, and many arguments. With my Dad being self-employed and just starting out in his business, it took its toll on their finances and on their new marriage. Still we thrived, and I lived as an only child for five years.
Throughout those five wonderful years, I spent weekdays at my grandma’s house so my parents could work and every weekend I could with my grandparents. Those were the best times of my childhood. My Mema and Papa believed faithfully in Jesus Christ and went to church every Sunday, and took me along. When I was just a few weeks from turning 5 years of age, my little sister was born. It was a huge surprise to me and I was completely jealous because I didn’t want to share the attention. But I grew to love my sister and to protect her. Soon after my sister was born it seemed that my mother was spending a lot more time with my sister and less time with me. I was deeply hurt. My mother began to get angry with me over little things, and I didn’t understand why. It seemed that my mother had developed a special bond with my sister, one that I just could not seem to compete with. Although try as I may, I could not garner the love and attention that I so desperately needed.
Being a daddy’s girl, I LOVED my Daddy with everything I had. He drove a big log truck, and I would be so excited when he would come home. I was so proud of my father. But my father was gone for long hours, and was gone even on the weekends. I rarely saw my father because he was a workaholic, a self-employed businessman trying to make ends meet. Money was always an issue. There were fights between my parents, and I tried not to get in the way. Sometimes I thought I was the reason they didn’t have any money.
I tried to protect my sister from everything so that my sister would not have to experience the emotional trauma that I was going through. We got along great, and I still remember the smiles and laughter we had as we played at Grandma’s house every weekend. We would sing praise and worship songs while I played the keyboard and Grandma sang. And boy, she sang so beautifully. I had even given my life to Jesus Christ. Every Sunday. For a month. I just loved the attention which I did not seem to get at home, and I did not fully understand what I was doing. But at the time, nothing could have taken away my happiness. Except cancer.
My grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember her losing her hair, and we would play dress up with her wigs, and I would help her with her breathing machine. She would always say that she was going to get well enough to run circles around the yard with us, and I believed her. She couldn’t possibly lie to me, right?!?!
I trusted that she would get better. I didn’t know what cancer was at age 11. Looking back on it, she had been trying to tell me goodbye when I left her that day, but I didn’t know. I knew she wasn’t feeling well, so I left her my teddy bear, believing that she would be okay with him by her side. November 30, 1996, my grandmother passed away. That was the worst day of my life, and it caught me by complete surprise. I was not expecting to hear the words, “She’s gone”. That was the day that the illusion of my life, and everything I thought I knew and trusted about it, was destroyed. I began to hate God, question His existence, and if I even mattered to Him. I was angry with God. He had taken away the only security blanket that I had, the only life I had ever known. I slowly became an atheist, and would continue walking that rebellious path for 12 years.
After that day, I began to slip into a deep depression. The kids at school bullied me daily and I hung out with the kids that no one seemed to want to hang out with, but who accepted who I was without judgment. In eighth grade, as I got off the bus, I was told I walked like a kangaroo, every day, without fail. It began to take its toll, and I had lost my virginity, smoked my first joint, and my first cigarette, all at age 13.
Working full time, my parents didn’t get to spend much time with me, and I had trouble making and keeping friends. I felt completely alone. I hated school, and I began to hate myself. In high school, I sought out the attention of males because it was the only thing I knew how to do. I had learned that if I gave them sexual attention, then they would give me attention back, just not the kind of attention that ever filled my needs. I stole boyfriends from others, and persuaded guys to cheat on their girlfriends. I began to be violent towards my sister, physically and emotionally abusing her because I had nowhere to place my anguish. I was no longer a good girl.
In school, I was made fun of and isolated because I didn’t fight back. I reasoned with myself and made the excuse that if it was me that was getting made fun of, then it was preventing the bullying of someone else. I justified it and begun to accept the things that I heard, believing the lies that I was not good enough; that I didn’t belong. That I deserved the pain.
A few months later, I decided that I did not want to, and did not need to live anymore. God hated me or didn’t exist, my family wasn’t available for me, and my grandmother had been taken from me. I wrote a poem about suicide and showed it to one person, who told the guidance counselor, and I was summoned to her office. I then confessed that I did not want to live anymore, and I was sent to a local mental health facility to be evaluated and voluntarily committed. I stayed for a week, and that week was the most horrible experience.
As if I didn’t get made fun of enough in school, I was made fun of by the kids in the co-ed psych ward, and the nurses and doctors did not seem to care. In fact, the first day there I was not aware that I was supposed to choose what I wanted for my meals for the next day. No one took the time to explain anything to me. How in the world could I make a decision about what I wanted to eat when I could not even make the decision about whether or not I wanted to live? In that ward, I learned that if I just pretended that I was okay, that if I showed that I was happy and could manage, then things were okay. All I had to do was pretend and hide the pain, the hurt, and the suffering. So I bottled it up. After a week, I was discharged because they said I was stable enough to go home. However, I was definitely far from it.
I was still totally against God and church, only choosing to go again because of someone I dated. I wasn’t there for God. I was there because I wanted attention. Fast forward a few more relationships, and then I was engaged to be married. I met someone else who was engaged to be married, and I fell in love. Both of our engagements fell apart, and I’d like to say that it wasn’t my fault…but I’d be lying. We found ourselves fast, best friends who could just hang out and have fun.
I got married at age 22 to that best friend and the love of my life. Him and I fought constantly, and I found myself in a deep depression again. I felt isolated and inferior at my own job. I struggled with my anger and uncontrollable emotions, and I was someone that no one wanted to be around. Because of this, I was kept at the same position for years without consideration of getting a promotion. I could not control my depression and I lashed out in anger and pain. One day, I just lost it. I broke down. I completely lost all emotional control, and I was sent home from my job. Because they did not seem to care to ask, nor did they fully understand what was going on with me, there was no way they would have known what was to come next.
I went home and immediately attempted to take my life. I thought it would take me away from all the pain and suffering. It was supposed to be my freedom from pain. My attempt failed, leaving me emotionally overwhelmed. I had to deal with it, by myself, by my choice. I never told anyone about that unsuccessful attempt on my life, not even my husband nor my coworkers. I kept it bottled up inside.
Years later someone was hired at my work that MUST have been sent by God. I was still a practicing atheist at this point, so I was skeptical when he began talking about God and what He had done in his own life. He told me how his church was planning to start this thing called Celebrate Recovery. I looked it up, so desperate for this hope and healing that I was hearing about. But I had to wait. And I didn’t want to wait. As time went on, I began to lose all hope of being healed. I thought to myself, “God, if you are truly alive and well, then please show yourself to me. I only want to be happy. Lord I NEED to be happy. Or I need to die” I even went to my knees, and pleaded with God to just take my life, for I was not worthy of living. I pleaded and pleaded with Him to take the pain away, but it did not happen. Still it remained, and still I lived.
I was invited to church, took a seat, and waited for it to start. It just so happened that the preacher was preaching a sermon series on “How to Be Happy,” based on the beatitudes of Jesus Christ. The pastor was preaching on the HOPE choice, Principle Two which states, “Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and that He has the power to help me recover.” And the verse that started my whole recovery, “Happy are those who mourn for they will be comforted,” Matthew 5:4.
For the first time, I had hope that I would be comforted in my pain if I followed Jesus, so I rededicated my life back to Christ. I so desperately wanted a change from the life I was living.
I purchased a Celebrate Recovery bible, eager to get started on that hope and healing I kept hearing about. When I received it, I the first verse that jumped out at me was, Psalm 25:17, “Relieve the troubles of my heart, and free me from my anguish.” That was God telling me that He heard me, He had heard my angry heart crying out for help, and this was His answer.
In August of 2015, our Celebrate Recovery began its 30 days of prayer, and in September, launched the step studies for leadership training. I wasn’t there to help anyone else. I was there to fix myself. I was broken, hurting, and desperate for love, hope, and healing. I had no intentions of being a leader, a volunteer, or anything else. I started attending the step studies, and opening up was the hardest thing I had ever done. Having built up my inner fortress around my heart and soul for so long, I did not want to tear it down, much less let anyone in.
But, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, we must do the thing we think we cannot do… and so I did. I began answering those questions within the step study book, and writing down answers to those difficult questions. I dreaded attending CR every Friday night. I dreaded having to answer those questions in front of everyone. I was ashamed of my depression, and I wanted to hide it. But every Friday I still showed up. Keep coming back right?
Working the steps, I was able to ask forgiveness from my sister for the pain and suffering I had caused her. I was able to forgive my mother, and ask for forgiveness for how I had hurt her. We had that conversation the day that my mother had the test that eventually led her to find that she had a mass in her kidney, which later was revealed to be kidney cancer. It is through God’s grace that I was able to spend what little time I had left with my mother and show her the love that I refused to show her through my stubborn anger. One year later on December 1st I was able to be there for her when she needed me when she was diagnosed with stage IV stomach cancer after being taken to the ER, something we were all not expecting. I was able to take care of her like she had taken care of me when I was a child when she came home and into Hospice care. I was able to hold her hand as she took her last breath on December 29th. I thank God that through CR, our relationship was restored so I could experience all of those beautiful, painful things.
During those 30 days of prayer I felt that God was calling me to volunteer in CR, but I asked why me? I was not the person for the job. He answered, “My child, who is more qualified to take someone through the darkness than someone who has been through the darkness themselves?” I went to my God-sent friend of mine and I asked, “Have you ever struggled with something that God has called you to do?” The answer was so simple but so powerful. “Yes, I have struggled. But I have never been disappointed when I have answered that call.” So I signed up to volunteer as a co-leader for a small group.
1 Corinthians 7:17 states, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” And for the first time, I took a leap of faith.
A few months later, I began to sink into another major depressive episode. I attempted to hide it, but it came to a point that I could hide it no longer. I could no longer deny that I was struggling with depression.
I was trying to fight a fight by myself that I was powerless to fight.
One Sunday in June, two years ago, I didn’t want to fight back anymore. I sat in my driveway, determined to end my life. I sent only one text, which wasn’t expected to be immediately read, but it led to a 2-hour phone call that saved my life. After the crisis was over, I was gently reminded that I had made the choice to continue living. That meant there was still some fight left in me. And let me tell you, that was God’s strength, not mine, for His strength is made perfect in our weakness.
I made the choice to begin to seek treatment. I began to reach out for help. I began to open up for the first time in my life, and boy did I have a lot to say. I sought professional help. No longer did I have to hide the fact that I was suffering with depression. I now realize that I am not my depression. That I am worthy of love and grace. That I am worthy of being alive. That I am worthy of recovery. I have a choice to recover. This month I will receive my two-year coin for continuing to make that choice. I earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and He has the power to help me recover.
If you are coming to Celebrate Recovery for the first time, I just want to tell you that I am thankful you are here. I am thankful you came through those doors against the fear of the unknown.
It’s okay to not be okay, but it’s NOT okay to give up.
By reaching out for help and through talking about mental health struggles, we shall begin to open the dialogue for mental health recovery and break free from the bondage and chains of the stigma that bounds us to shame and guilt. We no longer have to be chained and bound. We can be free. I still struggle, but I cannot, and will not, give up. If you are struggling, ME TOO. It’s time to break the silence.
1 Corinthians 1: 3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
I am so thankful and so blessed to be a Mental Health Champion and part of the National CR Mental Health Team.
Thank you for letting me share.
April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor