Mama says I was a happy little kid, and for the most part I think she was right, but somewhere, somehow that all changed.
I remember the first time I thought about suicide. I was around nine, and at that time I didn’t know there was a word for it. I remember being shocked at myself and pushing the thought away, telling myself that was something only horrible people did. But the thought came back over the years and I let it linger till it didn’t seem so bad anymore, until eventually it actually seemed like a good idea.
I don’t remember exactly when my relationship with food broke down. It started with just eating less. Being thin wasn’t a goal; I was and always had been slender. Although I couldn’t control other things happening in my life, I could control what I ate. There was something almost empowering about it. By high school, body image also became a factor. I fell into a binge eating pattern, fluctuating between starving myself and giving in and eating. I hated myself for the fact that I couldn’t eat like a normal person.
In 11th grade, I left home for boarding school. A new school was a chance at a fresh start, and I put suicide on hold and tried to be a normal person. This worked at first, but by the second semester I began falling apart inside. Even though I wasn’t suicidal, my eating disorder was causing problems and I was struggling with anxiety. That was when I started cutting.
I remember the first time I cut. It was like it happened out of nowhere. I didn’t think about it, didn’t plan it, it just happened. I remember looking at my scratched, bleeding wrist and thinking, “That was stupid, everyone will be able to see that.” And someone did. I promised not to do it again, but that was a promise I couldn’t keep - it was too late. I am thankful that I lacked the courage to harm myself in anything more than minor ways and that I was able to stop fairly early on. However, cutting is incredibly addictive, at least it was for me. No one tells you that once you do it, it is something you will do again, and that you will have the urge to do it for years after quitting. What makes cutting appealing? In truth it’s impossible for someone who has never engaged in self harm to really understand what the appeal is. The best way I have found to explain it is that to a depressed, psychologically unhealthy person it “helps balance” psychological and internal pain with physical, external pain in a weird, messed up sort of way.
“I was disappointed and discouraged.”
As the school year continued, I felt more out of control - like I was falling to pieces. It was at this point that things went from a very personal, internal struggle to involving others. Although deep down inside I wanted help, I wasn’t in a place where I was ready to accept it. Professional intervention didn’t help, and I was disappointed and discouraged.
My senior year a new girl came to school and we became friends. This year I was determined to hold things together. Marie was the last person I wanted to have find out things weren’t fine; I didn’t want her to worry. But she did find out and, ironically, she didn’t seem too bothered. Marie is the kind of person that has an answer for almost everything and this was no exception. “You should go to Dr. Nedley and do his depression recovery program,” she told me. I laughed it off, after all I’d been to a psychologist and it hadn’t helped at all – my problem was something I was just going to have to live with and figure out how to cope through. I thought, “Dr. Nedley might be able to help other people, but I didn’t think there was anything he could do for me. Besides, I don’t want to be disappointed again.” So, I pushed through doing my best to make things work. It was a losing battle and that spring I reached my lowest point.
During my final semester of high school, I was struggling with depression, food, cutting, and even panic like never before. I was hiding so much from everyone; I felt like a living lie and I hated myself for it. One night I prayed that God would kill me and save me the trouble of ending things myself. Later I picked up a pamphlet called “Where is God When I’m Hurting?” I opened it and then, without reading it, crumpled it in my hand and threw it against the wall. I knew where God was - He wasn’t there.
“I realized I had nothing to lose”
But somehow during that horrible week it all clicked. I was depressed and I knew it. It was at this point that I realized I had nothing to lose. If Depression Recovery helped it would be worth it, and if it didn’t, well life sure wasn’t worth living like this and I could end it. I called home, “Mom, I need help, I want to go to Dr. Nedley.” Mom said, “If that’s what you want to do, we’re doing it.”
Let me interject something crucial in case you don’t read any further. Coming to the place where I was able to ask for help is ultimately what saved me. As long as I believed that I was beyond hope, I really was. I was the only one with the power to put myself in a position where help could be given. My only regret is that I didn’t ask for help sooner.
Once I entered the 10-day residential Nedley Depression & Anxiety Recovery Program I was diagnosed with both depression and anxiety and put on a strict schedule. It wasn’t easy getting up at 5:30 and exercising before breakfast. The rest of the day was spent attending lectures, exercising more, listening to classical music, and going to therapy and other appointments. On top of all this, I was literally having to rephrase everything I said to myself in order to correct my negative self-talk. The schedule was tiring, and by the third day I thought I was going to “die.” But as I pushed through, things got better. It took less effort to wake up, exercise got easier, the classical music in the lobby started sounding more pleasant, and I began feeling happier. Every day as I ran for exercise it was as if I was running away from my depression, leaving it all behind. In my mind I had begun to understand that this could work and that the smallest chance was worth it. If there was one thing I knew, it was that being depressed was horrible and that I didn’t want to ever go through it again. I was ready to do anything to make sure that I was going to be okay.
Change wasn’t gradual – it was everything at once. I went from not really exercising to three hours a day of exercise. I started drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, using light therapy, eating a plant-based diet, fasting from technology (phone, computer, etc.), and listening to classical music. The cool thing about it was I wasn’t just doing these things - I was being educated on why. I learned what exercise did to my brain, why it made me feel better, and the importance of getting blood to my frontal lobe. I learned why a plant-based diet is best and what sugary foods and dairy products actually do to the body, particularly the brain. I learned about other things and how they contribute to depression – things like movies, certain kinds of music, pornography, drugs, alcohol, and caffeine. I saw the effects on the brain, and for the first time in my life, it clicked. I understood the “why.” I realized that I don’t do these lifestyle practices because I feel obligated, because my parents, the church, or even the Bible say so. I chose to make healthy choices simply because I wanted to do everything in my power to help my mind be everything it can be. It was simple, it wasn't about other people, arbitrary rules, or any of that, it was about me and my fight with depression —like someone handed me a sheet of strategies on how to win. It would be foolish not to take it.
It didn’t take long for me to begin to understand that the thing that had sustained my depression wasn’t my bad relationships, failures, or even things in my past - it was simply the lies I had chosen to believe. How did I end up in a place where I was planning to end my life? Because as a 9-year-old I told myself that I was worthless, and I chose to believe that lie. As time went on, I told myself and believed other lies. I chose to believe that my family didn’t care about me, I was a failure, God didn’t care, I was powerless to do anything about my depression, and I was beyond hope. All these lies had come together to help create one massive problem. The key thing that Depression Recovery set about changing was the way I thought, the very wiring of my brain. I was assigned to read a book called Telling Yourself the Truth. I realized that if I was going to get anywhere in life, I was going to have to learn to tell myself the truth. And so the process began of replacing negativity with positivity and replacing untrue and distorted thoughts with thoughts that were right and true. It wasn't an easy process, and it took almost four months of rephrasing almost everything I said to myself before it started to come naturally, but it was so worth it. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32) Learn more about this process here.
I don’t know what I thought was so hard about asking for help. Maybe it was embarrassment, fear of being turned down, pride - a mix of a lot of things. That being said, mustering my courage to actually step out and do it was hard. Looking back on it though, it was way easier than keeping up the struggle. While asking for help and choosing to be helped may look like the hard thing to do, the reality is that in the long run it’s so much easier.
“For the first time in my life, I saw a God who loves depressed people.”
One thing I had really struggled with was my picture of God. I didn’t understand how a loving God could let me feel the way I did when I prayed over and over again that He would take away my depression. How could He just let me struggle through life like this? I chose to believe that He didn’t care - that He wasn’t the God I had been taught to love as a child. Instead I saw Him as distant and for a time I contemplated His existence. As human beings we have a place in our hearts that only God can fill and when we fail to see Him as the God He says He is, I think it is easier for us to accept the “reality” that He doesn’t exist then to believe and accept that He doesn’t care. During Depression Recovery, I saw a new picture of God. For the first time in my life, I saw a God who loves depressed people.
Through Depression Recovery I came to recognize the power of choice. In a lot of ways life is rough and things happen that we cannot control. It can be very hard to handle bad things. What matters in the long run isn’t so much what happens to us, but how we respond to it. In the end, our response is really what determines the outcome. Looking back on my life leading up to the program, I realized that to a great degree my responses to life had been wrong and that in a lot of ways it was my choices that had made me miserable. In addition, I realized that I had spent my life blaming my problems on other people when it was really my responsibility to deal with them. It sounds harsh but deep down I knew it was true and I chose to recognize and accept that responsibility. Looking back, it wasn’t my fault I didn’t know how to respond correctly, but moving forward, it put the ball completely in my court. I realized that I had to own my problems because as long as I kept blaming them on other things or people, I was powerless to fix them. From then on, it was up to me to choose how to respond to life. Depression was my choice and it was completely under my control. I had the power to choose and to change and that was incredibly empowering. There is a quote in Telling Yourself the Truth that I love. “Nobody other than you has the power to make you miserable. That power is yours alone” (pg. 71). Reading this was the most inspiring thing, like someone had handed me the keys to the car and said, “You drive.” After everything depression had taken from me, I had the chance to take it back, to be in charge, to stop being a victim.
I was determined to never cut again coming out of Depression Recovery. There were moments when it was about all I could do to keep from harming myself. But as I fought the urge to cut every time it came, things got better. I felt like cutting less often and it was easier to resist the temptation. Stopping self-harm isn’t that different than reversing any other bad habit or addiction. It's hard and it takes time, but it's oh so worth it. You have to want it, and then you have to be willing to fight for it. There were three things that helped me the most. 1) Having a game plan - knowing way in advance exactly what I was going to do instead of cutting. When a temptation comes, you don’t have time to think about what you’re going to do... you have to know - your response has to be automatic. 2) I chose to tell myself the truth, “I don’t need to do that,” and, “Just because I feel like it, doesn’t mean I should.” Taking the time to rephrase your thoughts builds new patterns that strengthen over time. 3) I chose to believe that I could. Believing that you CAN is huge, because either you can or you can’t and as soon as you believe you can’t, you’ve lost. When it comes to breaking habits and making changes in our lives, we don’t have to do it all on our own. Paul writes, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) And Christ promises us “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8) I’ve thought about these verses a lot. There are times I still feel like cutting for no apparent reason. The temptation may never go away completely, but that’s okay, because, every time I win I get one bit stronger and the temptation gets one bit weaker.
“When I finally chose to let go of my need to control, I actually found freedom.”
I thought my battle with food would go away on its own, so I sidelined it during Depression Recovery. It was fine for a while, but it didn’t take long for it to flare up again. I think deep down I was still holding onto my pre-conceived ideas about body image. It was also part of my identity. It took almost three more years for me to really shake myself from being controlled by food. The end came with a talk by a pastor at my college. He shared the idea that as a rocket lifts off, the bolts that hold it to the ground let go, if a bolt fails to let go, the rocket does not go straight. It’s the same with us, if we want to go straight, we have to let go of all our bolts. I realized I hadn’t let go of all my bolts in Depression Recovery and I wasn’t going straight. I recognized that there was no logical reason for me to let food control me, and with that I let it go. The ironic thing about eating disorders is that often they seem to stem from a desire to be in control, and yet what I discovered was that the more I controlled what I ate, the more out of control I really was. When I finally chose to let go of my need to control, I actually found freedom. I applied the principles I’d learned in Depression Recovery, told myself the truth, and learned to see food as something besides my enemy. Today I can eat normally, with no guilt or regret and that is such a blessing.
First and foremost, I make the decision to be happy. Secondly, I manipulate things in my life that make it easier to choose to be happy. This involves sleeping enough, eating healthfully, and exercising regularly. I also choose to find pleasure in the little things like colored note pens, crazy socks, and a special cup I like to drink my orange juice out of in the morning. I also try to take the time to do fun little things like splashing in the puddles with my rain boots on the way to class and catching snowflakes on my tongue. If you wait around for big things to make you happy, you’ll probably never get them. If you think about it, will you really be happy about the big things in life if you can't be happy about the little things? Finally, I try to see humor in life as much as possible, learning to laugh easily is so worth it.
I’m grateful and amazed that I remained medication free. I got the best doctor I could have hoped for – one who believed that depression is treatable with lifestyle and who was willing to spend years of his life researching and developing the Nedley Depression and Anxiety Recovery Program. Instead of being tied to an antidepressant, I’m tied to making healthy choices – who can complain about that? Yes, psychiatric medications have a place, but for many of us they don't have to be a permanent fixture in our lives and they are not the only solution. For me, sharing my experience is one little step toward letting the world know that there is a better way to treat the mental health epidemic.
I wanted to share my story with you because I realize that while I may have my life back, others don't. If you haven't struggled in these areas, first of all count yourself blessed, and secondly recognize that these issues are common and learn to see those who do struggle with love and compassion. If you have struggled like me, I hope that at the very least you've been encouraged and that you’ve been able to see that you're not the only one. You deserve freedom and happiness, and I encourage you to be willing to reach out for help, grasp the tools, and persevere. Recovery IS possible!
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