I was a sweaty mess by the time I checked in and sat down. My heart was pounding and I struggled to sit still in the waiting room. As I sat anxiously listening out for my name to be called, all sorts of thoughts raced through my confused mind.
“Why are you even here. You don’t look unwell?”
“Damn it’s warm, is there no air con?”
“Well done! You built up the courage to do it!”
“Is there any water around? I’m super thirsty.”
“You shouldn’t have come. They’re not going to believe you.”
“The receptionist probably thinks you’re just wasting their time.”
Everyone looks up to see who’s turn it was. Crap! That’s my name lit up like a Broadway show on the appointment screen. I panic. It’s too late to escape now. I need to face up to it. I need to tell the doctor my dark thoughts. I need help.
The short walk to the doctor’s room felt like an eternity. Closing the door behind me I sat down on the uncomfortably warm chair. He asked, “What has brought you to this appointment today?” I opened my mouth but no words came out. How do I even start this conversation? How do I tell a total stranger the utter misery I feel?
This wasn’t the first time in my life that I’d been to see a doctor. Growing up with migraines from a young age meant I was used to seeing them. Young. Old. Male. Female. I wasn’t scared of them. They’re there to help us, right?
Looking down at my shaking hands I finally got the words out of my mouth. I began to explain how I’d been feeling and that ultimately, I didn’t want to feel a sense of hopelessness and misery anymore. Silence filled the room. I swear you could have heard a pin drop. He looked at my history records and said I’d been a few months before and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
It’s true. I had been a few months ago, but I had never really heard of the terms depression and anxiety being illnesses. Surely, they were just words used to describe how you felt on a rubbish day or before you went on stage for a performance?
I’d ignored the diagnosis as those closest to me said I was too smiley to have depression; that’s not for teenagers who have nothing going wrong in their life. Yet behind closed doors my thoughts where getting darker. I decided to return to seek support. Yet it wasn’t support that I was given.
The doctor went on to abruptly tell me I’d always have depression and anxiety. “Just like some people are born with brown hair and others with blue eyes, you were born with depression and you need to live with it.” I froze like a deer caught in headlights.
After what felt like a lifetime I uttered the words “OK”, gathered my bag and made my way out of the room, past the waiting area and onto the street.
It was a cut-throat experience that left me not seeking support for a genuine illness. But, luckily, the story didn’t end there.
Finally, over a year later I sought out support from a helpful GP and began a journey of learning how to manage my mental health. A journey that has taken me to different types of medical professionals; on and off different anti-depressants, talking therapies and even receiving a re-diagnosis in my mid-twenties of chronic depression. This journey is still very real now, yet I have not let it be a solely negative experience.
As I look back I can begin to see how my endurance began to be built through challenges, like my experience at the doctors’. I can see how patience, whether that’s through waiting for treatment or just that especially dark mindset to ease, has built me into the type of person I am today. A person who seeks to provide hope to adolescents in their relationships with themselves, with others and with the wider world.
I do not find happiness in the troubles I or others face. There is nothing happy about living with depression or any other mental illness. Rather, I try and choose to find a deep sense of joy in knowing that God is at work in me and through me, for his glory.
Choosing joy isn’t easy. It’s a daily decision that doesn’t always turn out, well, joyous. Joy is much deeper and richer than happiness. It’s an active decision to continue to give glory to God, even when life around you – or in you – isn’t going well. It’s about not giving up in the face of adversity but being resilient and remembering we are relentlessly loved by a Father who let his own son die, so we could have life.
We also have joy with our troubles, because we know that these troubles produce patience. And patience produces character, and character produces hope. Romans 5:3-4 NCV