By Rev. Teresa Smith
I fell into a deep pit. I experienced twenty funerals the year I turned 25. As a newlywed my job forced me to live apart from my husband. I wanted to curl up and die. Tears were my constant companion. I had faith but it didn’t seem to touch my depression.
The people around me were lovely, charming, and eccentric. For the first time in my life I had enough money to live on as long as I was careful. But it didn’t stop my tears or anguish. The location of my new job had scenery that was awe inspiring, breath taking, but I was blind to it. I managed to do my work but whenever I went home the darkness closed in on me and the despair crushed me. I was a pastor with serious depression.
Abdominal pain gripped me in sporadic waves. I was convinced I had endometriosis but the gynecologist said it was psychosomatic. He recommended a counselor. I found a counselor and went but his skills and my needs were a mismatched mess. I couldn’t even see him leaning over the mouth of the pit to help me. I kept going to see him because I was desperate.
Can faith cure depression? What could I do?
I began to read every book at the library that might help explain what was happening to me. I found one that described a habit I had. The habit was when one small negative thing happened my brain would open the floodgate and bombard me with every negative thing I had ever done or said until my soul would cry out, “I might as well be dead.” The book taught me how to stop allowing one small minor thing to sweep me into a deeper pit.
Then one day I stumbled onto an invitation to a retreat for women in my profession. I signed up in a fit of desperation. Looking back years later, I remember only one thing from that day long retreat. There was a picnic table I sat at and a woman spoke up and said, “I need a support group.”
Those of us at the table laughed and said, “We will be your support group.” We jokingly called it “Jan’s Support Group” as if none of the rest of us needed support. For the next two years over eggs and grits served with baked apples then over burgers and fries, we shared our life stories and I began to see that there were people at the top of the pit reaching down towards me.
Then my husband of two years “helped” me. He said he couldn’t do it anymore. I needed to get help or we would get divorced.
I went to Jan’s Support Group and asked for help. They gave me the name of a psychiatrist and Dr. Mary lowered a rope down into the pit to me. Over many months she talked me into trying medications. I was opposed. She persisted. Finally, the anti-depressant took hold of me and helped lift me to the land of the living.
What a miracle it was to get out of bed without groaning. The miracle was multiplied when I found myself singing as I brushed my teeth. Singing! It was the official recognition that I was no longer living in the pit. I continued to see Dr. Mary who worked with me to give me tools, coping skills, behavior modification techniques, resources and the ability to gain perspective. Years later I would find the book by Richard O’Conner, Undoing Depression. It was as if he had lived my life, been in my pit personally. O’Connor explained the flood gate thing that happened to me. O’ Conner taught me how powerful my brain was and how my depression had a genetic side to it.
I moved to another city and someone recommended “Family Systems” to me. I had to get a bigger toolbox as I acquired new tools.
My miracles and the toolbox
Looking back I see many miracles, Jan’s Support Group, the Retreat, the Local Library, O’Connor, Dr. Mary, my husband, Family Systems, and the therapist who was a mismatch. God sent me many helpers. I believe God has ordered the world in such a way that humans need one another. I believe suffering is part of this life. I believe healing is God’s will.
Dorothee Soelle in her book Suffering says there are three stages to healing: isolation (when we believe we are all alone and no one else has ever felt this way), communication (where we reach out and begin to tell our story and find healing listening ears and advice) and solidarity (when we reach out and find a group of people who stand with us).
There are too many tools in my kit to put in this short blog (EFT, EMDR, Yoga, Neurotherapy, Dr. Fehmi, and gut health are more recent ones). Faith alone didn’t get me out of the pit. The people of God, those who carried the faith and had deep compassion from having been in the pit, brought the ropes, ladders, wisdom, and encouragement I needed to arrive in a place of strength and blue sky.
Where do you turn when you feel like you’re entering the pit? You don’t have to be alone. There are groups like “Jan’s Support Groups” around you, and perhaps we can help you find one.
Teresa Smith is smitten with blue skies and sunsets overlooking the river and believes there is hope for every person. She is the pastor of New Hope United Methodist Church just outside of Fredericksburg, VA., director of New Pathways -- a ministry designed to help guide people from suffering to hope and healing and is author of Through the Darkest Valley: The Lament Psalms and One Woman's Lifelong Battle Against Depression. She can be reached via her facebook page: Rev. Dr. Teresa Signer Smith or her church website at NewHopeVA.com.
[Posted March 13, 2018]