This is the story of my battle with depression, or as I like to call it, “the darkness”. Though it was a journey hued by varied, somber shades of gray, at the end, there was light. Radiant, dazzling, liberating light. The Lord had a plan from the beginning, and He has used it all for good.
For as long as I can remember, by God’s design, I was a sensitive child; sensitive but joyful, creative, and full of energy for life. My growing-up years were characterized by little darkness; I was blessed to be born into a loving Christian home, and was largely sheltered from the pain of this world.
It wasn’t until my family and I moved from brilliant Paradise Valley, Arizona to often gray Portland, Oregon preceding my third grade year, that my mother realized there was something a little “dark” in my world. The rainy days affected my mood, bringing me down. The overcast skies seemed to close in on me and felt inescapable, like a prison.
Thankfully, there was a dawning–we moved back to sunny Arizona three years later, and not surprisingly, I have never remembered those years in the Pacific Northwest particularly fondly. This early bout with Seasonal Effective Disorder foreshadowed a deeper, more monstrous iceberg than I ever could have imagined.
The Enveloping Darkness
Years later, following quite possibly my highest, most surreally perfect year to date: fabulous freshman year at Baylor University, with all its excitement and energy…I crashed into my sophomore year. And I do mean, CRASHED…as in, nose-dove into a terrible chemical depression that rendered me inert and utterly apathetic on my apartment bedroom floor, wishing with all my might that I could just be done with this life. Though, thankfully, I did not have the courage to go through with taking my own life, I felt no will left to live it.
In a blur of events that I barely remember, my mom convinced me to see a doctor, and in that sterile Waco examining room, I began my long, rocky journey of treatment through medication, wearing my new diagnosis like an unwelcome badge: “major depression severe and generalized anxiety disorder”. I learned that our family had quite a history of depression, and now there I was, just another name added to the list. It became my new identity, in a way, permeating every square inch that was me.
It was difficult to forget for even a moment that I was clinically depressed; it was my new reality. In addition to bothersome physical side effects, each medication brought a fuzziness to my world: a foggy memory, dulled reactions and emotions, and general lackluster-ness. My eyes no longer afforded me a sharp, vivid picture of life; though the meds dulled my pain, I now lived with blurry lenses. I just wasn’t myself.
That being said, I don’t mean to complain. I was, and am thankful for the blessing of medication when I needed it; after all, it kept me stable and ALIVE. I am a believer in the wisdom that God gives scientists to formulate medications, and doctors to evaluate their patients and prescribe them. Much like someone with a heart condition that relies on medications to keep them healthy, a person with a chemical imbalance needs balancing medications to cope and live effectively. I also do not buy the argument some believers make that depression is a purely spiritual matter, and the depressed person should just buck up and rely more heavily on God to pull them through their particular dark place. I believe God used my years in the darkness to instruct me in many different ways, as only He can do.
Nonetheless, relying on medication can be a tiresome prospect. Psychiatrist after psychiatrist would remind me, “This isn’t an exact science,” as we bumped along, trying one medication after another, most of which would give me a temporary boost, and then “poop out,” as the experts referred to this phenomenon, leaving me back in the same proverbial boat in which I started. It was emotionally exhausting, and went on like this for years.
Being reliant on medication effected my self-esteem and constantly made me wonder if people would like and accept me. After all, taboo mental illness is best swept under the rug in our society; it’s not “pretty” or “comfortable”. It is a topic best avoided, I found, after being burned once or twice, and resorted to admitting only to those closest to me that I was medicated.
My circle of friends grew smaller as I retracted into my shell, feeling as if I harbored a dark secret, and it was painful. I felt safer there in my self-induced isolation. During this time, however, the Lord was faithful to bring several people into my life that shared in the darkness that is depression. Let me tell you, after yearning to be understood for so long, sharing my heart with those who “got it” was like a long, cool drink in a hot, parched desert.
Stumbling in the Dark
Through the years, my diagnosis evolved but never dissipated, and doctor after doctor concurred that I would most likely have to remain on medication my whole life, so chemical was my particular imbalance. This was a reality I grew to accept out of necessity, but with which I never made peace.
I met and began dating my future husband during the spring semester of my euphoric Freshman year, and thus Ken Bauer was thrust unwittingly into the whirlwind of my mental downfall Sophomore year. I recall many an excruciating conversation in which I would try to describe how I felt, only to be met with his blank stare; the poor guy didn’t even slightly catch my drift. He hung in there like the trooper that he is, however, and we celebrated fourteen years of marriage this May! He will tell anyone though, living so closely with depression has NOT been an easy journey.
Becoming pregnant with our first child in 2004 presented a host of new problems, during a time that should have been characterized by pure joy: to continue on medication, or not? If yes (and this is what my doctor strongly encouraged, reasoning that ensuring my stability would give my baby the best chance), which drug would be the safest option? It was a wretched choice to have to make, and rational or not, I could not help but feel a sense of guilt, wishing I could afford my child the chance to grow in my womb unencumbered by chemicals; wishing for the thousandth time that I didn’t have to deal with the whole sordid mess of depression at all. I felt stuck.
Looking back, I realize this was a test of my faith. A control freak through and through, the Lord wanted me to place my baby girl, His creation, back in His hands alone, and simply TRUST. The Lord was faithful, and Lilian Camille was born, beautiful and healthy, unaffected by the medication. But then…scarcely had I cleared hurdle number one, when hurdle number two loomed before me: breastfeeding. It seemed like another insurmountable obstacle when coupled with the medication dilemma. However, once again God showed up, counseling me through my doctor to begin a different low-risk medication, enabling me to safely enjoy nursing my little girl, while once again placing my faith solely in Him.
By the time I became pregnant again, my doctor had changed my diagnosis to “Bipolar II”, which is the less severe of the two forms of the condition, but it meant changing to a whole new class of drugs…which were considered downright unsafe in pregnancy. Fabulous. This was the crowning glory, the pinnacle of my “letting go, and letting God” instruction (at least in this chapter of my life)! Imagine my anxiety, having to harbor the paradoxical choice I knew I had to make, for my own safety and thereby for that of my child, while potentially risking his health, with cleft palette or other maladies.
It was only by God’s mercy that I got through that pregnancy in one piece, considering the fears it surfaced in me. And it was only by His grace and covering that my perfect baby boy, Carson Kenneth, was born completely unscathed by the class C medication that had been coursing through my body during his entire gestation period. God is SO good!
This time, considering the medication I was on, nursing was not an option at all, so God gave me the grace to embrace the bottle, and I held my baby boy close at each feeding, determined not to miss out on one moment of mommy/baby bonding time. To this day, Carson and I have a very close, special relationship…further evidence that once again, God came through for me in what seemed at the time like a devastating blow as a mother; so innate is our desire to provide the very best for our children, with breastfeeding being the best.
The Lord also gave me an extraordinary measure of grace and acceptance when my doctor decided after Carson was born that mine was not a bipolar depression after all, but a normal depression. (!) Therefore, from a worldly perspective, the whole effort was rendered completely useless…but I know that my loving Father, in His infinite wisdom, used this trial to grow my faith. I realize now that I could have seriously lost it at this juncture, and honestly still look back on that time in sheer amazement that I didn’t. The memories still move me to tears. All I can say is the Lord carried me through all of it, and this most unpleasant chapter as well. He calmed my spirit, and enabled me to keep on with my joy largely intact, allowing me to relish the blessing of my newborn, while moving forward with hope. Again, He is so GOOD!
Groping for the Light
Once re-re-diagosed, I resumed my previous cocktail of antidepressant medications under the care of my psychiatrist, but I began realizing that I had ever so slowly begun feeling better over the past few years. My lows were no longer quite so low, and I was enjoying life more. This was a happy realization, indeed, and I began to see God’s faithfulness in having slowly improved my condition. It did not dawn on me until Spring 2011 though, that what had really transpired was a miracle: He had ever so slowly been HEALING me!
I’m not certain why He took such a gradual approach, though I suspect it was because He was waiting for the perfect time to unveil the glory of what He had done in my life…prior to last Spring, I believe I was simply not ready to swallow the prospect of the God of the universe touching MY life with one of His miracles. Oh, I believed that He COULD, but that He probably just didn’t want to. He wanted me to stay stuck in the mud of depression for some reason unbeknownst to me. I always figured I was just another Paul-story, with a thorn stuck permanently in my side.
By fall, 2010, I was on the lowest dose of medication ever since commencing the drugs in 1997–one solitary bottle had been keeping my toothbrush company, compared to the sundry antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications that had classically littered my bathroom counter. And I was feeling and doing great; I see now that God had been priming me for witnessing a miracle in my own life!
The story of my healing began at an intimate marriage retreat my husband and I attended that fall. While completing a Biblical cross-referencing exercise, the Lord spoke to me about my journey through a passage in Ezekiel about the shepherd and his sheep. “I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness [emphasis mine].” Ezekiel 34:12 (NIV) During a sharing time following this exercise, I spilled my “dark secret” to the small group, relating how I had always thought of my depression in terms of darkness, and how this passage brought me tremendous comfort.
Then a curious thing happened. One of the retreat leaders, Linda, in whose home we were guests for the weekend, said to me, “I believe I have a word for you from the Lord.” And she proceeded to quote John 8:12 (NIV): “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” She said, “God doesn’t want you to forever remain in the darkness. He wants you to live in the light!” Well, now that was enlightening (no pun intended)!
Though I have used the metaphor of darkness and light prolifically in this testimony, I had never considered the light as having anything to do with MY particular story until that point. Linda’s comment that day sparked a fire in my soul to discover just what this journey had been all about, and I knew she was on to something significant!
I suppose the Lord knew I needed to mull over this epiphany for a while, so my snowball of discovery did not gain serious momentum until Spring 2011, when our family joined a small group at our church. We began getting to know the couple that led the group, and low and behold, the wife and I had startlingly similar stories. Eerily similar–so much so, that I began to see this “coincidence” as having God’s fingerprints all over it. She became somewhat of a mentor as we shared our journeys of depression, and it became clear to both of us that God was up to something HUGE in my life.
I told my new friend that I thought I would visit the Healing Room, our church’s healing ministry, and see what happened. I was searching for an answer that I think I already had, but I had to do the writhing that a caterpillar must complete in his cocoon before he can emerge a mature butterfly. So I began to pray about whether God would have me take this route, to affect a change in my circumstances. I had finally begun to think BIG, but I had no idea what my Creator had in store!
Then, one magical week in the midst of all this, in His perfect timing, God opened the floodgates. He bathed my life in LIGHT…through metaphors, songs, scriptures, and one confirmation after another. He began opening all the curtains and shades in the dim, dusty house of my soul, where I had lived so long in resignation, in a process of divinely unveiling the light He had already poured into my life, at a time unbeknownst to me. I felt as if I was living in a dream, so surreal was my experience during this time!
It began appropriately with a song that the Lord deliberately stuck in my head on repeat for several days: “You Put The Light In Me”, by Brandon Heath. I was taken aback as the lyrics spoke profoundly to my heart, over, and over, and over again, and so I began asking God what he was up to. The realization of what was happening slowly dawned on me, just like that holy space each morning when the warm sun rises gradually over the earth, scattering the darkness and bringing light to all of God’s creation.
Next, it was a scripture shared one evening during that glorious week, as I attended choir practice at our church. The devotion that night was naturally on topic: God as LIGHT in the Bible. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—light! Sunbursts of light!” Isaiah 9:2 (MSG) That now-familiar, warm realization hit me afresh upon hearing that passage, and I could not erase the smile from my face…I was living something incredible and divine!
Other confirmations followed, and words simply cannot do justice to what it was like; how it felt, living a miracle. Adjectives spill onto the page in a desperate attempt, like, “amazing”, “incredible”, “life-changing”, but they are simply not adequate. All I can tell you is that after a week engulfed in His presence, warmed through and through by His light, leaving me marveling in His wake, as I watched it all gloriously unfold, God unleashed the grand finale, speaking clearly to me in a way that I will never forget. He said, “Leslie, you have already been healed. I wanted to heal you before you had a chance to think you had a part in it. I didn’t want you to try to control the outcome, by manipulating your own healing.”
Finito! It was finished! It was so perfect—me, the control freak who was always afraid of getting in God’s way, didn’t even have a chance this time to try and fail! It all happened exactly the way God knew I needed it to, in His infinite wisdom. I felt like a wet noodle when it was over…an elated one! I made the joyous call to my psychiatrist the next day: my declaration of independence from the pill bottle!!! I was free indeed!! I’m sure my doctor thought I was nuts, citing a healing miracle as my reason, but I have never looked back, and to this day am thriving in God’s hands, medicine-free!
Life in the Light
And so, there was light at the end of my journey through the darkness. Though it’s naturally imperfect, I see my life now through a crisper, more sparkling lens; I experience the vivid hues of joy and sorrow more fully than I did before, which is a refreshing feeling, to say the least. I can cry now when I feel like crying, and feel love for the people in my life more deeply than I ever could before. It is a gift, a humbling gift, for which I am eternally thankful.
However, it’s been an uphill climb at times, relearning how to deal with normal human emotions; something most people surely take for granted. This was something the medicine took care of for me for 15 years! It provided a buffer when normal highs and lows would hit, softening the blows, but sadly, also suffocating sheer elation. Though the learning curve has been steep, it has been a true delight, feeling again, and drawing ever closer to my Creator, my faith inflated, having witnessed first-hand one of His miracles!
That’s not the end of my story, though–in His omniscience, God did not stop there. He wasn’t finished with me yet, and He doesn’t waste a thing! He recycles His miracles, to impact life after life. When my Healer set me free from my depression, I heard Him clearly commission me to go forth with my story.
His purpose was two-fold: that my testimony might help others in similar situations, but also that it might encourage His children that He is still alive and active in our world today, working miracles among us, like in the Bible times! A couple of years ago, He enabled me to come alongside a friend who was struggling like I had for years, and in part because of my story, she found the support and help she needed to get healthy. It was tremendously fulfilling to be used of God in this way; my journey had come full circle, to His glory! And He’s brought others into my path that I’ve had the distinct privilege to minister to since then…
Today, as I bask in God’s glorious light, my heart is warmed, and my faith inspired afresh, knowing that He used and redeemed my time in the dark, as only He can do. As a result, I am a living testament of this Scripture, which I will leave you with: “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear…that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” Philippians 1:12-14 (NIV, Emphasis mine)