“I was alive and breathing, but I was a shell. I woke up just to go to classes, keep up appearances in church, and that was it. No joy, no purpose, no passion, no zest for the life God gave me.”
Depression is a common mental health condition that is medically defined as “a constant feeling of sadness and loss of interest”. It results from complex factors and events and affects performance in normal activities.
It affects more than 264 million people worldwide and is reported to be more prevalent in women than men, associating stressful life events, seasonal changes, and hormonal factors. Notably, recent studies show that the rate has likely tripled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Mayo Clinic, depression is a serious mental health condition that often gets worse if untreated. Moreover, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that its effects can be long-lasting or recurrent, dramatically affecting every area of life.
Depression is real.
It can feel like walking through a dark tunnel that has no end, where hope seems hopeless and out of reach. It dominates the mind and emotions which can happen to anyone, regardless of status, career, level of maturity, or spirituality.
Even the Bible has relevant stories and hurting companions who understand the weight of anxiety and depression. It happened to the Prophet Elijah, Job, King David, and others.
Similarly, the well-known evangelist, Billy Graham expressed his lows in humility, “The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, ‘O God, forgive me,’ or ‘Help me.’”
Perhaps, like these influential men of faith, we find ourselves navigating dark episodes in our personal lives, feeling hopeless, hurting, and lonely. Their narratives remind us that we are not alone in our state of misery and we can overcome such feelings of despair.
Depression is real to a 30-year-old writer and follower of Jesus, Anna Bettina Esguerra. Through her own words, she narrates how it feels to walk with depression and shares how she learned to overcome and manage her emotions well.
I sat in front of the nice lady, still not entirely sure I was doing the right thing by being in that office. The sun was shining brightly outside, which was a stark contrast to how my mind, heart, body, and spirit were feeling.
I had only been in counseling for a few weeks, but I already found myself incredibly exhausted. Upon the encouragement of my discipler in church, I finally went to see a counselor because at that point, my life—or my depression and anxiety, rather—had become unmanageable. I was 19.
You see, this story begins as most stories like this do: In church. I grew up in an evangelical Christian household and church, knowing all the Bible stories, characters, and lessons like the back of my hand.
I knew what to say and what not to say so that people would think I was doing OK.
I made a lot of friends and seemed well on the outside. I even went to the most prestigious university in the country.
But inside, I was a mess.
I was incredibly lonely, insecure, and had an overwhelming darkness inside me that I didn’t know how to name. I would suffer from crying spells, panic attacks, and hyperventilation that I would blame on asthma and too much coffee. I would leave people before they could leave me, since I was also battling an intense fear of abandonment and rejection.
At the time, no one talked about things like depression and anxiety. Doing so would mean I was not “normal,” that there was something deeply wrong with me.
Writer Andrew Solomon once said, “The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me.” I was alive and breathing, but I was a shell. I woke up just to go to classes, keep up appearances in church, and that was it. No joy, no purpose, no passion, no zest for the life God gave me.
So when my counselor drew a massive iceberg on a piece of paper and asked me to write everything that made me, me, all I could write on top was “U.P. student.” If someone had a gun to my head and forced me to write anything else, I couldn’t do it.
I forgot that I was a daughter, sister, and friend—let alone a precious child of God who was chosen by Him even before the foundation of the world. When my counselor pointed that out, I started bawling my eyes out for the nth time that afternoon.
How could I forget I was more than just a student?
That my identity is so much more than just a title I needed so that people would love me, accept me, and choose me?
That day made a mark on me because I finally slept like a baby the moment I got home after my session. Insomnia was finally kept at bay as my Father in Heaven held me in His arms and sung me to sleep.
When I finally embraced the salvation I was given, by God’s grace He provided me with the strength to be honest about how I was doing, to gain tools to manage my overwhelming feelings and emotions, and even to find a sense of safety and belonging again after growing up feeling neglected, abandoned, and rejected.
I wish I could tell you that there was one single “aha!” moment where I finally felt truly healed and free, but the healing and recovery God gave was a slow and long process. It’s a combination of multiple “aha!” moments as I chose God, slipped, found my way back to God, and sinned again.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
And if I’m being truly honest, it feels like the pandemic has set me back from so much of the progress I’ve made throughout the years.
But through the constant reading of His Word and coming across verses like, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you,” (Jeremiah 31:3), by immersing myself in community and not turning away even when I felt like sabotaging all my relationships, by forgiving others and asking for their forgiveness, and by letting God’s love cover a multitude of my sins, I truly felt the veil of depression, anxiety, and trauma lift over me.
Even when it’s hard, even when I don’t feel a connection to God, He finds a way to bring healing to my mind and heart—even during moments I don’t expect anything from Him.
Going through counseling has taught me that faith and practical help are not mutually exclusive. Therapy, medication, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) are mere tools God has provided as another channel through which He can extend His tangible love and healing to us.
These tools are second to spiritual disciplines like reading the Word, prayer, solitude, discipleship, and community, and they can go hand-in-hand. It’s not an either/or proposition; it can be both. They work in conjunction so that we can go on our way to the life and freedom God wants for us.
Just because you seek professional help, it doesn’t mean your faith is weak.
In fact, it can be an act of surrender; it can mean you now want to depend on God and His people for your healing, and you have faith that His grace can and will carry you through.
The process of healing may be painful, and indeed excruciating, but it’s absolutely worth it. It’s not going to be easy, and I think the reason so many of us get frustrated while waiting for healing is because we expect God to answer in specific ways. But we can’t box Him in.
Today, while my life is far from perfect, my depressive episodes have been manageable for years.
I have a wonderful, healthy relationship with my family—both physical and spiritual. My life is being used by God for a purpose as I disciple young adult women in our church community. And I have joy in my heart that no lack, no pandemic, and no traumatic event can take away from me.
Every time God took me by the hand and asked me to step out in faith, He came through for me. Every. Single. Time.
Because in Jesus, depression is not my name. Anxiety is not who I am. Trauma is not what I am made of. My name is Anna Bettina Esguerra, and my Father calls me by my name.
Bettina Esguerra is a writer and PR specialist. When she’s not busy chugging down iced coffee, she can be found going on photo walks with her trusty film camera, playing with makeup, and channeling her inner cottagecore princess. She loves Jesus, her family, her best friends, her church community, and making disciples.
If you think you are struggling with depression, help is available. Talk to a professional Therapist or certified Counselor to clinically address what you feel. Moreover, engage in a safe place of community that listens and understands real-life human struggles, fosters growth and inner-healing, reflecting the heart of Jesus.
Know that in God’s vocabulary, depression does not have the last word in humanity. When His perfect time comes, suffering will fall at His feet and there will be no more tears and pain. We await that day.
For now, we cling to Jesus.
“When my worry is great within me, Your comfort brings joy to my soul.” – Psalm 94:19, NLV