I once believed my faith in God would keep me free from depression and all mental illness. I found out that this is a commonly believed myth. Depression has no common denominator except that one be human. No matter what you might think, depression affects all people no matter what race, economic class, religion, gender, age, and nationality. It is now the leading cause for illness and disability worldwide announced by the WHO this week.

Depression is the №1 Cause of Illness and Disability Worldwide

The year was 2014 and I was experiencing the best year of my life. My family was happy. My children were healthy and my 18 years of marriage seemed to be better than ever. I was fulfilling my purpose in life helping the sick and poor in Cambodia as I had for years. But now I was excited to see incredible results from my work. Lives changed, the curse of poverty lifted, those hopeless filled with hope again. Being a Christian, it filled my heart with great joy. I was up before 5 AM spending time in mediation and prayer, taking care of my family, and busily leading the many others in the work we began. That is why my depression came as such shock to me. Within a few months, I began to realize that things were not as good as they had seemed. There was fighting, gossiping, and hate going on around me. Maybe I just wanted to remain in the bliss of the goodness I saw or maybe I choose to ignore it because I didn’t want the fun to end. Either way, the problems actually began hurting me physically. I lost my appetite, couldn’t sleep, my hair was falling out, and I began losing weight quickly. I went to get a full health check thinking it must be physical. They even did an endoscopy to check my stomach. I think the doctor gave me some diagnosis of gastritis or something else but I knew better. I had to accept that I was physically okay but mentally I was not. I didn’t like that answer. I couldn’t seem to change it as much as I fought and tried, I seemed to get worse and worse. Guilt came over me as I saw how blessed my life was and I couldn’t understand why “I couldn’t pull myself up by the boot straps” as I had done so many times in my life. Is God mad at me? I searched and allowed Him to search me but all was quiet. No answers to be found. Then the panic attacks started and I went through 6 months trying to figure out how to relax with little success. My work that I loved went on hold. I didn’t even want to think about it. My family was carried mostly by my husband, and I spent a lot of time alone.

This is when the advice started coming in. Read the Bible more. This is spiritual warfare. God is pruning you. They were friends and they were trying to help. But it only worsened the guilt that I felt. I picked up the Bible but every word I read turned into guilt and shame. My perception of myself and God was off. I couldn’t stop it. I had loved the Bible before and felt comfort from its words more times than I can tell you but it seemed every word read brought shame. I closed it feeling more helpless than before. Everything I thought I knew would heal me did not. Looking back, I was trying to put a spiritual bandage over physical and emotional problems. I traveled to escape but found no relief. I had little to no sleep and began living a panic attack nonstop. I was alone in a country without my closest family and friends. I reached out to counselors but was told 2 things. Christians don’t need antidepressants (not true by the way). Second: “go and try to make a panic attack happen and you will see that you can’t and then you will be fine. Call me next week and lets talk again.” What?!! Needless to say. His phone never rang from me. This is when I learned how lonely depression was and how misunderstood it was by those I thought would be the experts at healing.

About that time, 2 life saving events happened to me. First, I was given a clear vision from God. He gave me an image of His strong and mighty hand reaching down from heaven into a dark hole. I was lying in that dark hole and He was grabbing my wrist and pulling me out slowly. The key point He showed me was that I was not holding onto his hand but He was grabbing me. As if to say, “you’re not going to screw this up, I am pulling you out no matter what.” That seemed to ease me from some of the guilt. I felt chosen by Him and fear and loneliness began to leave gradually. This image comforted me many times over the next year. I could be patient knowing that He would rescue me.

The second life line was friends. We had 4 friends from the other side of the world who bought their airline tickets to come and be with us. To love us and to help us fulfill our purpose. I had stepped back from helping the poor because of my condition. But, my friends being dentists and medical fortunately encouraged us to go out to an area in need. We spent 3 days helping pull teeth from many suffering from rotting decay in their mouths. As we relieved the pain of others, I felt my pain lift bit by bit but the greatest blessing was the night before they left. We have a piano in our house that is rarely used. ( You know when you buy something hoping that kids would pick it up by osmosis.) Our friends and I sat around the piano while they played old hymns and songs of worship. My heart gripped me as for the first time I shared the 8 months of pain with friends who actually listened, didn’t judge me, and refused to leave me alone! It actually hurt worse to share but I knew I was on the right path.

I’d like to say that depression left me that day never to be suffered again but the process is gradual. He did pull me out. I am free from it today. The hard part is knowing that it could creep up on me again. But, I must accept 3 things. First, He will be faithful to save me again. Second, I have learned a lot through this process and I know how to endure well. Third, I have gone to what I like to call the “school of depression and anxiety” and am a teacher for all people around me.

Every time I share my story with others, healing comes more and more. We were made to do this journey of life together!

Do you want to know how to heal from depression or how to help a friend in depression? Remember that depression is physical, spiritual, and emotional. Healing must occur in all areas because we are complicated beings!

5 Don’ts:

  • Don’t believe that there is one answer for everyone.
  • Don’t think there are band aids or medications to magically take it away. These things can help but they will not remove the feelings in itself.
  • Don’t fall for any quick healing ads. This is a gradual process.
  • Do not try to put a band-aid on your friend in depression. In fact, keep advice to a minimum especially if you’ve never been there before.
  • Don’t try to numb the feeling of depression away as much as you may want to. The feelings must be felt. The process must take place.

6 Do’s:

  • Accept it for what it is. It is a feeling and it will come and go.
  • Do rely on God and others.
  • Stay away from hurtful people.
  • Find friends who will listen to you over and over again.
  • Hug people.
  • Encouragement is your best tool. Receive encouragement from others, podcasts, uplifting verses, songs, friends and family.

To read more about how this experience changed me for the better, sign up to receive emails of my future posts.

Lastly, I would love to talk to you if you are experiencing depression now. I have nothing to sell and any advice is free! I won’t judge you and will listen quietly. Please email me at [email protected] if you need a friend.

Coming up on Thrive Global by A Coffee With Friends. . .

Part 2: What Not To Say To A Depressed Person

Part 3: Depression Made Me A Better Person

Originally published at acoffeewithfriends.com on April 1, 2017.

Originally published at medium.com