I was recently told by someone in my life that I need to “get myself together.” This may sound harsh, but she was completely right. I have been battling nearly crippling depression and anxiety for so long, and it’s time I deal with it.
The expression “get yourself together” strikes me as fitting because I feel like that is what I quite literally need to do. I picture myself in pieces at the moment. Not body parts, of course- that’s gross. I mean pieces of my internal self- fragments of my heart, mind, and soul. My motivation is separated from my passion, my self-esteem is separated from my sense of hope and belonging, and my sense of joy and peace are separated from my memories and daily experiences.
So how does a person “get his or herself together”? I instantly picture myself scurrying around frantically, trying to pick up all the pieces and put them together on my own- in other words, using sheer willpower to fix my situation. This is how I have been trying to deal with my anxiety and depression for years. I think to myself: If only I just tried harder, if only I was a little bit more resilient, then maybe all my problems would be solved.
To be sure, willpower and resilience are essential to overcoming mental health issues. I have absolutely no doubt about that. However, I have come to understand that relying on this form of self-remedy alone is a Band-Aid solution. And we all know that while Band-Aids may work wonderfully for little cuts, they are not effective at healing deep, gaping wounds that need more serious medical attention. Willpower is simply not enough, by itself, to solve the problem of depression and anxiety.
Specifically, in my life, sheer willpower means I try my best to do all the things I currently lack motivation to do- things that will help me feel better and are good for my mental and physical health. I mean things like exercising, reading, journaling, and spending time with family and friends. These activities are necessary for my improvement, but by themselves, they will not solve my problems. Every time I force myself to try harder, to push back against the negative thoughts and terrifying fears that are screaming at me to just hide and distract myself from the pain, it makes me feel better temporarily. But inevitably, often even within the same day, an anxiety attack or depressive mood will send me collapsing to the ground once again (I mean this metaphorically, but admittedly this occasionally happens literally).
So what is needed? How does someone “get his or herself together” if mere resilience and willpower is not enough on its own? Well, remember how earlier I said that my sense of joy and peace are separated from my memories and current experiences? What I mean by that is that I am dealing with a sense of detachment and disassociation from my own story. I have lost my sense of who I truly am and where I have come from. All of my reasons for having joy- for having hope and happiness in spite of challenges- are lost on me. All of the evidence in my life that points to why I should have peace- have calm and rest in spite of fears of the future- seems like it is no longer sufficient.
I am dealing with a sort of spiritual amnesia. This is a problem of my mind and heart. My mind has forgotten the logical reasons for me to hold onto joy and peace in spite of life’s expected difficulties. My heart has forgotten why it should feel happy and safe even when faced with fear.
So what, you may be asking, have I forgotten about my story that is so essential to my growth? Some may even argue that life is meaningless, and that temporary Band-Aid solutions are all we have at our disposal for joy and peace. Some may argue that I am kidding myself if I think I have an ailment of the heart and mind. Some may argue that I am nothing more than physical matter in need of physical solutions. And I completely agree that physical solutions such as exercise or medication can work really well in helping someone recover, and they have been a helpful tool in the past for me as well. But if this was only a physical illness, I would have recovered long before now. No, this something much deeper than a mere brain or hormonal malfunction. I have been rescued on a spiritual level before.
When I fight my spiritual amnesia, and think back on my story, I remember a 14 year old girl lying in her bed. She was battling urges to cut, impulses to restrict food intake, and an overall desire to just give up on life. The hopelessness and numbness was overwhelming her. Despite growing up in a family that valued faith and hearing about God her entire life, she felt alienated from God and wondered if He was even real. She had even told God she hated Him on several occasions, that even if He was real she couldn’t trust Him or love Him.
And yet, one night, the anguish was the heaviest it had ever been. Out of desperation, she quietly asked God for help, barely even believing in His existence. And from that day forward, she felt a sense of pure love surrounding her. The depression did not go away. But everyday, she became a little more hopeful.
The Psalmist in Psalm 18 explains what happened to me then much better than I ever could:
“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me [In my case, depression and anxiety]. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.” -Psalm 18:16-19 (NIV).
Now, some people have told me that I probably just imagined God’s help- that it was really just me pulling myself out of the deep waters the whole time. They are describing a kind of spiritual placebo effect. They mean well, and I understand why they might think that if they have not experienced God’s intervention in their lives. I pray that they will experience it someday.
I know without a doubt that it was God Who rescued me back then. However, I told my story in third person because I have become disassociated from my past self. I have forgotten, on a spiritual level, everything God has done for me and is still doing for me. I have forgotten that the only way I was able to learn how to cope with my depression and anxiety back in high school was by resting and trusting in Him.
So my prayer now is that I will remember not just on a mental level, but also on a spiritual level, what God has done for me and is still doing in my life to rescue me. I pray that I will remember that sheer willpower is not enough on its own; I need redemption. I need a Redeemer.
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