I am thankful for my dark night of the soul…my journey through the valley of depression.
I almost choked, as the tears stung my throat just writing those words. Just thinking back on those dark days and realizing how far I’ve come brings a well of emotion from sadness to great joy and gratitude.
We’re told to be thankful in all things
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). That’s a tall order. All circumstances? Cancer, miscarriages, job loss, depression…? ALL.
Sometimes it’s difficult to see the redemptive side of situations while we are in the middle of the mess, but that’s exactly where our faith has an opportunity to grow.
I will never forget the year I spent deathly ill. Up until that time, I was a busy neuropsychologist with a thriving private practice, treating patients with a variety of medical and mental health disorders ranging from depression and anxiety to concussion and dementia. I frequently told people that I counted myself very lucky because I got to get up every morning and go to a job I loved. Until one day I couldn’t…
One day in the middle of seeing patients I doubled over in excruciating pain. I finished my session quickly and took my patient up to my front office where my staff could assist with the next stage in the process while I slowly made my way back down the hall before vomiting then passing out. Rushed to the emergency room, that began a very frightening five months fighting for my life.
Surgery was required, and five months of bed rest. I was kept alive on I.V. hydration and nutrition. My weight plummeted from a healthy 113 pounds to a skeletal 74 pounds. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t be the doer, the achiever, the go-getter, much less much of a wife or mother. All I could do was sleep, pray, watch sermons online, and listen to music 24×7. I wasn’t living, in fact, I was barely existing.
I remember crying out to God and declaring that if that was all my life was going to amount to, I wasn’t sure I wanted that life. As the weeks turned into months and my physical status continued to deteriorate, so did my emotional health as I walked into the darkest night of my soul.
Depression became my constant companion
I couldn’t eat, I slept all the time, and I no longer recognized myself in the mirror. Little things like taking my vitamins and brushing my teeth took more energy than I could muster.
In my tears of desperation I wept before the Lord as I begged Him to either take me home with Him, or to make my depression count for something; to bring me out of that dark, desolate valley better than I had gone in.
“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).
On the other side of depression
That was years ago. I’ve regained my health, and my emotional well-being. I’ve gone on to write not only Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression but also the companion Hope Prevails Bible Study in response to reader requests. Now I speak, and teach about what I’ve learned, and the hope I found even in the midst of those dark days.
Just recently I had another opportunity to share to two different groups: on a Saturday I shared before a group of mentor leaders, and then on Sunday I had the privilege of sharing to a church congregation about where depression comes from, who our real enemy is, and how we have to battle it if we truly want to find freedom for this devastating condition.
On Sunday, after I was finished speaking, I was blessed to speak to person after person who stood in line for over an hour, each recounting their own story and how they could relate to mine.
“I’m so grateful you shared your story today,” an older woman said as she clasped my hands in hers and leaned in closer to share. “You were talking straight to me. I’ve never told anyone before, but I’ve battled depression my whole life. Now you’ve given me hope that maybe I won’t have to live with this forever…”
That was not the only testimony I heard that weekend. I was honored to hear one after another after another until the church emptied and the doors were being locked. Men and women, young and old, shared their experiences with me, many offering that they had never shared such things with anyone before. And yet, many did so with a smile on their face because they knew that freedom was theirs and they were not alone.
Why I’m thankful for depression
I am now thankful for my journey through the valley of depression.
I believe it has made me a better doctor.
It has deepened my well of compassion and empathy.
It has stripped away judgmental attitudes and replaced them with great love, mercy, and grace.
It allows me to relate better to some of the stories in the Bible about biblical greats such as Jonah, Elijah, Job, and David, all of whom suffered greatly and yet continued to serve the Lord.
It allows me to open an honest dialogue with a simple, “Me too” from a place of understanding and knowing that comes only by experience.
It has allowed me to meet some of the most precious people who smile on the outside but ache on the inside, just as I did, but who are just as precious to Him.
That makes me almost giddy with excitement because Scripture says God is no respecter of persons, which means He doesn’t play favorites and what He did for me, He wants to do for others.
It thrills my heart to now be able to comfort others with the comfort He showed me.
“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)
So yes, as odd as it may sound, I am thankful for my journey through the valley of depression.
Is there anything now that you are grateful for that you never thought you would have said that about? I’d love for you to share in the comments below.
Because of Him, #HopePrevails
The Hope Prevails Bible study is now available!
Are you or is someone you love experiencing depression? This book offers tangible help, hope, and healing from someone who’s been there and has come out on the other side.
In this Bible study companion to Hope Prevails: Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey through Depression, Dr. Bengtson, a neuropsychologist with over 25 years of experience, shares both her clinical expertise and her own personal journey through depression.
Dr. Bengtson’s personal experience is interwoven with questions for reflection, key thoughts, music playlist suggestions, resources, plus a leader’s guide.
This Bible study can be used as a companion to Hope Prevails or independent study by an individual or is perfect in a small or larger group study. Useful for churches and counseling practices.
“Authentic connections, raw insights, and powerful truths. A great resource for individuals that would be highly beneficial to both church and counseling groups.” ~ Pastor Debbie Kitterman, Founder, Dare 2 Hear Ministry