Written by Emily Heath
"O Lord, you have searched me and known me….Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me….I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." - Psalm 139
The month I turned 22 I was in the middle of a years-long fight against clinical depression. I had my college degree in hand (double major in four years), I was starting a new graduate program (seminary, no less), and I had loving friends and family.
I had everything to live for, and yet, I was fighting against soul-crushing feelings of hopelessness and sadness every day. I thought something must be spiritually wrong with me. After all, if you love God, and believe in the love and grace of Christ, how can you not be joyful? I believed that as a Christian I was a failure.
In the midst of this, I chose to reaffirm my baptism. I didn't know the Psalm whose words the minister chose that day. I didn't yet know about this God who knew me at the depths of my soul, and yet still loved me. It didn't strike me until then that God could know about my depression and still love me and believe I was "fearfully and wonderfully made."
Years, nearly decades, later I tell this story publicly with some trepidation. There is still profound stigma about mental illness. It's the same stigma I carried with me at 22. I saw my clinical depression as a moral failure, something bad that was happening to me because I was not strong enough to will myself well.
I didn't know then about how my particular brain chemistry made it hard for serotonin to be reabsorbed, for instance. I didn't know that in any given year, 6.7% of American adults are currently suffering through a clinical depression. I also didn't know that many of the people I looked up to and respected, including many clergy members, had gone through the same thing, or something similar. Which is why I tell you this now.
Depression tells many lies. One of them is that we are somehow beneath God's love. But it just isn't true. God knows us, and God knows when we suffer. God loves us immensely in those moments, and I truly believe God wants healing for us.
The job of the church is not to create stigmas that keep people from getting help. It's to break those stigmas apart and offer God's hope. If you are suffering, don't listen to the lies of the disease. Instead, listen to God's hope. And then, make the phone call for help that you've been putting off. Fill that antidepressant prescription you said you'd never need. Tell your pastor, or your friends.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and as a child of God, you deserve to feel that way.
God, as your people may we break down the stigmas of this world, and proclaim the wonder of each of your children. Amen.