I tried explaining it to my brother. “The scariest thing I have ever done in my life” is the exact phrase I used. I’ve been thinking about it for four or five months, and I’ve been talking to friends about it for two. Even after all this time, it feels daunting, like one of those scenes in a cartoon where the monster’s shadow is cast against the wall. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be talking to my doctor about depression medication. I have always ruled it out in the past, but I’ve come to believe it is necessary.
I know—it’s probably not the scary thing you were imagining. Lots of ordinary people use anti-depressants every day, and you don’t see them blogging about it. I had planned to keep it quiet. In fact, I wasn’t going to tell my parents I was considering it until I realized my doctor’s visits and prescriptions would show up on their insurance.
It’s a little embarrassing because there is still a big hesitation to talk about mental health, and I think certain parts of life are best-lived offline. But in the midst of all these conversations, I realized how few people who are willing to go public about their journey treating depression. Even worse, I realized (again) just how few people really understand the struggles of depression and anxiety. It’s easy for people to understand why being sad all of the time would be hard, and it’s easy to explain that I constantly don’t feel like myself. But that’s not really what depression feels like, and it certainly doesn’t explain why this seems like such a big deal to me. I’m assuming many people who read this still won’t understand why this is a big enough life change to constitute a blog post from me.
Here’s a short analogy that I think might help you understand why I am scared.
Imagine you’re a middle-schooler. On the first day of school, you befriend the class delinquent. He isn’t the kind of guy you would typically become friends with, but he talks to you unlike everybody else. He asks how you are, asks how you define yourself, wants to know about your goals in life, and so on. You don’t really hang out after school or on the weekends, but he’s the only kid willing to talk to you in the lunchroom. Nice enough, right? Even better, you don’t have to hang out with him after school hours, so you don’t get in trouble like his other friends.
As you grow up, you notice he changes after every summer. You’ve established a strong friendship for years now because the few times a month you do talk, you’re talking about the “deep” things in life—your future, your values, and your religion—but now you notice he makes snide remarks about the personal feelings you entrusted to him. He tells you that you will never accomplish your dreams, that your idea of religion is wrong, and that you are a burdensome friend. You chalk it up to teenage angst, but your hurt never really goes away.
Fast forward. You used to know each other well. You wish you understood him. Now, you’re stuck trying to figure out why he is hell-bent on hurting you. He’s like a pendulum out of control: One day, he wishes he acts like he wants to help you; the next day, he tells you it’d be best if you were dead. Other days, he doesn’t even talk to you. For crying out loud, you’re in college now! You shouldn’t have to deal with his mania. In fact, you don’t even really want to be friends with him. You just feel like you owe it to him because you have known each other for so long, and you promised you would always be there for each other.
Then, suddenly, he dies—dies at the hands of pills, nonetheless. And you’re glad you don’t have to face the constant degradation anymore. Your greatest enemy is gone. But for all of the hardship he caused you, he was still the friend you’d known the longest. He knew more about you than anyone else, and he kept up with you for seven years—even when no one else wanted to. He might have been bad for you, but he was consistent, at least.
In this analogy, you are yourself. You are also the friend from middle school.
I don’t really know how depression medication works. A few friends have described how it made them feel, and I’ve researched the different medications online, but I’ve heard so many opinions that I can’t keep track. No matter which scenario plays out in my head, it feels like part of me will vanish. Even if the first medicine we try is a “win,” it feels like I still lose. I’ll be glad I won’t have to face the same kind of constant degradation anymore. My greatest enemy will hopefully be gone—or at least he won't be as powerful. But for all of the hardship depression has caused me, it is still the friend I’ve known the longest. He knows more about me than anyone else, and he’s kept up with me for seven years—even when no one else wanted to. He might be bad for me, but he is consistent, at least.
Maybe you can explain my fears away by telling me God is sovereign and that whatever happens is His plan. You’re right. That’s all true. I refuse to allow my anxiousness to win my heart—God guides my way, not anxiety. But even reminding myself of this does little to assuage the very real presence of fear, uncertainty, and weakness. We are wholly human, and that means we have to be honest about our faith’s fragility.
Right now, I feel fragile.
It is the most humbling experience I have ever begun to go through. Admitting that I needed help was the hardest thing I have done other than picking up the phone and making an appointment. It’s easy to pray alone at night for God to change something that only He can change. It’s a lot harder when the answer He gives you is, “I think it’d be best if you took advantages of the resources I have provided you.”
What if the messed up part of my brain is the part that makes me love writing? Or makes me funny? What if the reason I care so much about empathizing with others is because my brain is trying to compensate for a perceived lack of empathy? And now that it might be corrected . . . Why does the one time I’m trying to help myself feel like I’m going to lose? If I do lose all those traits (or some of them), is it worth getting back off the medicine so that I learn how to empathize again, or write again, or anything else? Or is my own personality my biggest idol?
It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I have more questions than answers. And though I trust that God is good in it, I am terrified.
As friends, and readers, I would greatly appreciate your prayers. I don’t know what my blogging schedule will look like because I want to make sure I am preserving my energy to focus on treating my depression and anxiety, but I do hope to be writing regularly again soon. School is hard, and work is tolling, but God is faithful.
To Him be the glory, alone.
Cody Glen Barnhart
Cody Glen Barnhart (@codygbarnhart) lives in Maryville, Tennessee, and is a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written for sites such as Canon & Culture, For the Church, and Gospel Centered Discipleship.