life:filtered

…learning to live a life filtered by the truth of the gospel.

The Great Depression, 2012 April 13, 2016

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 3:13 pm
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In February of 2012, Super Bowl Sunday, I fell into the worst depression of my life. The Great Depression. There is pain so raw that you become numb. Darkness so deep that it’s blinding. I was drowning in an ocean of darkness. Always clawing at the waves, fighting against the undertow, reaching the surface only to gasp and find my burning lungs filling with thick, black water before being pulled under again.

By Monday, worn down by months of this blinding darkness and pain, I simply gave up. I quit. All I could think about was death. I wanted to be dead. Actually, I didn’t really want to be dead, I just didn’t want to live in the darkness and pain anymore. The light had been almost completely extinguished, barely the flicker of a distant match in a cave, and I couldn’t see my way to the light. So, wanting the pain to be over, I walked further down the path than I’d ever dared:  I considered the end. I am not proud of the fact that I fantasized about suicide. It is a shame that runs deep, but it is the truth. I did not make a plan. I had no pills at the ready, the knives stayed in the block, I did not fill the bathtub. But the longing was there, rooted deep inside. As Kathryn Green-McCreight writes in her book Darkness Is My Only Companion, “It [suicidal energy] is not wanting to hurt the self. It is simply wanting not to hurt.

Having traveled so far down that dark road, I called a friend, but she didn’t answer. It was by grace that she called me back at arguably the worst time. I told her where I was, what I was contemplating. And Heather, she didn’t panic. She kept me on the phone, talking with me for forty-five minutes. Praying for me in the car rider line as she waited for her children at school. Until Brian got home, she talked. Just hearing another voice was enough to pull me away from the precarious ledge I was standing on. After we hung up, she called friend, who called another friend, and soon my little network was praying.

I told Brian. Saying the words out loud somehow gave them less power and the urge to die was fading. The pain was still there, the darkness still suffocating, the waters still raging, but I could breathe just a little bit.

I spent the next day in bed, alternately crying and sleeping. Brian stayed home from work to watch me. I saw my doctor that afternoon. Unable to look him in the eye, he bent down and met my eyes, not letting my shame take me any further down the road than I already was. This was serious and did I need to be in the hospital? I was adamant that I didn’t need to be hospitalized. I was scared, though in all honestly, I probably should have been someplace safe. I was embarrassed and ashamed at the thought, though, and he accepted my pleas that I not be in a psychiatric hospital. I was sent home with a prescription for Zoloft and five sleeping pills. The sleeping pills he gave to Brian, not trusting me with a medication that could be used for ill purposes.

During The Great Depression, I all but lost my faith. Questioning God, asking why, but getting no answer. I lay in the mire with Job. I cried in the night; I cried in the day. I especially cried when surrounded by his people in church. When confronted with the life-giving words of Scripture, I cried, longing to believe the truth being presented. I ached with my need for God and for that Light that shines in the darkness.

The days turned into weeks, turned into months, still dark but growing a little lighter day by day as the anti-depressant kicked in. It took more than three months for me to recover from The Great Depression.  Unfortunately, in May, I rebounded and flipped into mania, although I did not know at the time that mania was the cause of my euphoria. I had not yet been diagnosed with bipolar and simply thought I was feeling great after the long months of depression. I had beat it, I thought. I had beat back depression and run into the light. And the light was so bright that, again, I was blinded.

©stephanie g. pepper

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counting joys September 9, 2014

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 9:48 pm
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Here’s a piece I wrote a few years ago after a long season of darkness. I fell off the earth and three months slipped through my fingers like water. I tried to go back and recapture those months, only to fall into the darkness again. In the middle of that darkness, I found Ann Voskamp and her book 1000 Gifts and learned the importance of counting gifts. This became the beacon of hope for me.

 

 

May 2012

I may or may not continue to recapture the last three months. I tried and ended up on the edge again; at the gaping hole of darkness. If I pick it back up, it probably won’t take the form of recitation. Maybe it’s a shame that I didn’t capture it then. But if I do go back to it, it will be with the lenses of thankfulness, lenses of the gospel and what the Lord has done, what He’s doing and where He’s brought me. And He brought me. Through a long, dark valley I can only hope is over. Pain, hopelessness, suffocating darkness, fear. But there were these people who looked at those things head on and said, “You’re not allowed to do this alone. We won’t let you.” They spoke truth and hope when truth and hope seemed like myths.

 

Why was I so surprised by the darkness? By suffering? Don’t all good stories contain an element of suffering? If the Lord is the author and perfecter of my faith, the Master Storyteller, how can I question suffering? And how can I persist in anxiety, fear, worry and depression? A good storyteller never leaves out the pain and hardness of his story. The story would be boring without it and I don’t want a boring story. The story He’s writing’s got to better than anything I could write.

 


What do I do? How do I let Him write the story—the one that includes suffering and darkness and pain? I’ve learned a new word. One that I think holds the key. Eucharisteo. Giving thanks. Practicing gratitude. Counting gifts—out loud and on paper. Numbering them one by one. One day of gift hunting—finding even the little ones—grandma’s quilt hanging on the line, the littlest boy turning back to blow kisses, kneading bread dough, the first lightning bug—and the full force of this truth burned into me. See, there’s this God. And He loves me. And He takes ugly things and makes them beautiful. And from darkness He calls forth light. Eucharisteo—even the hard ones—darkness and depression, worry and anxiety. If He’s brought me to this place of light from darkness in three months, how can I not trust the story He’s writing? And this is when I know. The head truth has finally become heart truth. He loves me. I’m His daughter. Praise be.

 

lean hard July 9, 2013

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 10:28 pm
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“When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.”

Grandma's Bible

Grandma’s Bible

Once when I was young and we were visiting, I picked up my grandmother’s Bible. It was a thick volume, bound in bonded black leather; King James’ English in large print for tired eyes. Thumbing through the thin, gold-leaf pages I came to a bookmark. There wasn’t anything remarkable about it other than what she’d written on it. There, in careful, labored script, were the words “lean hard on Jesus.” That thought puzzled me but not for long. I had no real interest in it so it quickly disappeared. At least, I thought it had. Turns out it had buried itself down deep into my soul and taken root. And a year or so ago, in the midst of an incredible season of darkness, a simple phrase scrawled by a quiet woman on a scrap of paper, pushed through the aching soil of a deep valley. The darkness of that gorge—of depression—is a darkness that can’t be seen but only felt. It saturates every aspect of living—even, and maybe especially, God. Trying to hold on to faith and hope and Jesus in the midst of that kind of oppressive suffering is, well, hell. But that phrase, I can’t say that I repeated it like a mantra, but it would saunter into my thoughts at times when I could barely lift my head.

And so this woman that I barely knew spoke Truth into my life years before I needed it.

I’ve always regretted that I didn’t know her better; that I never found out what made her tick, what she loved, where she hurt. And I wanted to know her secret, the reason she always whispered His name in everything she did, where her peace came from, why she was so content. But she had already given me her secret—lean hard on Jesus—and we never knew it.

We are kindred spirits, she and I; tied together by an invisible thread, in refuge under the shadow of the same wings. Leaning hard on our Jesus.

©stephanie pepper, 2013

 

something important June 29, 2013

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 6:39 pm
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“Be comforted, dear soul! There is always light behind the clouds.” –Louisa May Alcott


Statistically speaking, for a personal blog with a small reach, my post on depression generated a good deal of response. Some public, some private but all expressing gratitude and solidarity.


And so I feel compelled to say this: if you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of depression, please get help.


Like, yesterday.


There’s no shame in this illness because that’s what it is—an illness. Not a character flaw. We have to shatter the stigma of mental illness our society still clings to. And we can do that when regular people find a little bit of ordinary brave, refuse to hide and step out of the shadows.


Because a thing loses its power in the light.


Find the right meds.


And a good counselor.


And for heaven’s sake, let’s quit adding our own shame and guilt to the misery.


For resources and information regarding depression and other mental illness, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness here.

 

turning sad June 21, 2013

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 10:44 pm
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“Some people turn sad awfully young,” he said. “No special reason, it seems, but they seem almost to be born that way. They bruise easier, tire faster, cry quicker, remember longer and, as I say, get sadder younger than anyone else in the world. I know, for I’m one of them.” –Mr. Jonas to Douglas in Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

I’m struck with a deep, profound sadness sometimes. There’s no discernible trigger, no circumstance. Nothing “happens.” It just is. A dark emptiness falls and casts its heavy shadow over every part my living. This sadness, it happens a lot to people like me. People existing with this insidious illness called depression. It saps the life and energy clean out of us, as sure as any other “real” disease. Simple things like getting out of bed or eating become overwhelming, monumental tasks. And a hazy fog settles over life, distorting the days or weeks or months with a thick veil.

And the light of a thousand candle-prayers can’t chase it away.

berlin-prayer-candles-320x240

For nearly twenty years I’ve fought this darkness. See, people who’ve had one major depressive episode are increasingly more likely to relapse, making my odds of relapse about…100%. The funny thing is most people have no idea. I’ve gotten really good at pretending. At dutifully wearing a mask of happiness, because “nobody wants to see a sad face.”

And I’ve heard nearly every reason this illness is my fault. And usually those reasons come down to I’m not doing enough to be a good Christian. I’m not praying enough, I’m not reading the Bible enough, I have some sin I haven’t confessed—and if I just had more faith, I’d be healed. Because good Christians—real Christians—don’t get depressed.

I have high blood pressure too. Is that a result of lack of faith? If I prayed more or studied the Bible more, would my blood pressure return to normal? Do real Christians not have high blood pressure? 

See how silly that all sounds? I can’t pray away depression any more than I can pray away high blood pressure. So why do I keep secret the pills that regulate the chemicals in my brain but not the ones that lower my blood pressure?

Because I still think it’s my fault. That there’s something in me that’s lacking and surely, someday, I’ll find that last piece of the puzzle and be well.

I think I found it.

See, Jesus, he never promised life wouldn’t hurt. He promised the opposite—“in this world you will have trouble.” And that means that disease and illness and sorrow and pain are a part of life. Bad things happen, sometimes for no apparent reason. People get sick. Worlds go dark. Life is messy and hard and ugly and nobody ever talks about that because it doesn’t fit with our idea of abundant life. But the upside of that promise of trouble is the guarantee that he has overcome the world, and that my strength and joy is found in him and his power. Ultimately, he wins. And Jesus is what makes life beautiful. He takes hold of the ugly and shakes it right out until his beauty shines in and through life.

It takes whole lifetimes.

So those days I wake up feeling fragile, and that homesick, heartsick longing for home creeps in, that yearning for a place I’ve never seen but know because he set it in my heart from the beginning; I can grab hold of the promise that this is not the end.
And when I struggle to believe what I know is true, when I’m wrecked and bruised and all I’ve got is a strangled, broken “Jesus…” I have to trust that it’s enough. And it is, even though it doesn’t always appear to be. Because I’m never anywhere the Lord doesn’t know about and isn’t right in the middle of with me.

And just maybe it’s him pressing in, drawing me closer.

© stephanie g pepper, 2013
for a thorough, serious yet amusing, spot-on blog post about depression, visit Allie at Hyperbole and a Half.