Shimmering peace in the midst of darkness

Sue Nickel | Special to Canadian Mennonite

“Argh!” I cried out, as I slammed my fist down hard onto the kitchen counter. “I hate this! I’m so tightly wound up my body feels ready to split open. I can’t stand the tension anymore!”

So my brain screamed within the turmoil of what seemed like the world’s worst case of PMS. This episode of depression was lingering for months and I was exhausted, drained of all patience. I am a walking black storm cloud on the verge of a mighty outpouring of torrential growling. Notably, there is also an underlying heavy cloak of deep sadness stemming from a staggering set of losses: of hope, of self, of power and mastery over one’s life, and of protection and predictability. A deep melancholy folds over my brain like Saran Wrap clinging to its surface; airtight, it suffocates joy and snuffs out all light.

So, in the midst of all this turmoil, how have I experienced peace? How, in the midst of such dizzying discord, do I find serenity? First, I need to mention that I have done lots of counselling in stages over the years; it is invaluable work. Second, I am blessed with both a supportive, encouraging birth family and church family.

Peace looks like meals cooked, dishes done, cards mailed, emails sent, hugs, and phone calls; also, patience and grace extended when I had to cancel plans . . . yet again, presence within silence, non-judgmental attitudes, permission to speak in church about mental illness, listening and more listening, and then forgetting the things that were just said that weren’t congruent with who someone knew me to truly be.

I am one of the richest people alive when I recall truths such as these. I cannot imagine what hell it would be to have to suffer depression all on my own. My neuro-psychiatrist so very aptly defines depression as that which “brings you to your knees and is trauma to your soul.”

What takes place when I find myself on my knees? It is a humble and humbling posture, very uncomfortable for me. On my knees is a pretty difficult position to retain for very long. I feel small and insignificant, invisible and powerless. One of the most difficult aspects of depression for me is the emotions, and I include numbness among then; they can be very powerful and paralyzing. They distort thought patterns and arrest decision-making abilities, and these emotions make my mind feel pretty crazy. To rest and experience silence and solitude is almost impossible in the midst of them.

So the goal is to somehow move through these emotions in a safe way and in a safe place, because the times that I have been able to do this, I have come out on the other side to some kind of ease-filled peace.

Surprisingly, there is a gift to depression, and that was a gift of time; time to look at myself and my world from a different perspective. Because I was on my knees and unable to do the things I normally could, I found out what was most important to me, but, more significantly and life-giving, what was most important to God. This blew apart the myth that I was only worth what I could achieve and attain through my job, degrees, promotions and kids. It led me to a deeper and surer definition of life as a follower of Christ.

When I was on my knees, my head drooped, my eyes closed, and I began to surrender. Tears came. Anger also. Frustration. Grief. Anxiety and fear. If I could stay like this a while, stay with all the stuff I had feared for so long, I found I did indeed survive. And then somehow, there was a peace, and my body sank into the floor. I thought, I have done it! I have stayed with what scared me for so long. And I thought myself very brave. Most of all, I thought God so very gracious. It was on my knees that I began to hear whispers of worth, purpose and love. The gift of time led to the healing of many of my fears, which, in turn, bathed my traumatized soul with a holy balm. I thank God that depression brought me to my knees. Because of it I have lived this sure and steadfast anchor-hope.

In God in Pain: Teaching Sermons on Suffering, I read, “[W]hat the cross teaches us is that God’s power is not the power to force human choices and end human pain. It is—instead—the power to pick up the shattered pieces and make something holy out of them—not from a distance, but right close up. . . . That is the power of a suffering God, not to prevent pain but to redeem it, by going through it with us.”

Right there alongside us, our Triune God offers us a shimmering glorious peace, which I do not begin to understand, but I know what it means.

See more in the Focus on Mental Health series:
On becoming a better person
Walking toward wellness
Healing for soul and spirit
Mental health and ‘having faith’
Being the church in an age of anxiety
When mental illness drops in at church
Learning to let go
Students find relaxation through ‘puppy therapy’

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