Relying on God in Depression - Letter from Allison McGinley

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Over time, I’ve learned that therapy, medication, honest conversations and loving support from family members and friends, as well as prayer, help me get through these periods. And yet, I still struggle to accept that support when I need it most.

Sisters,

It was an ordinary moment on a mundane day when I realized that the darkness was back. I’d run into a friend who works at my doctor’s office, and as she checked me out, she asked how I was doing. I wanted to simply say, “Fine,” but I couldn’t keep the tears from filling my eyes—and once they started, they wouldn’t stop. That’s when I knew.

The truth is, the signs had been there for weeks—mood swings, difficulty getting out of bed, irritability, and weepiness. Yet, I’d explained each symptom away. “We’re selling our house and moving soon. We’re completely uprooting our lives. It’s all so stressful,” I told myself. “That’s all this is.” 

Will I ever fully overcome this affliction this side of heaven? And if not, how do I keep living in hope, moving forward, and striving for holiness all the same? I have found powerful answers to those questions in the lives of the saints.


But by now, the dark clouds of depression and overwhelming waves of anxiety have come in and out of my life for so many years that I can tell when I’m merely stressed and moody, and when it’s something more than that. I can sense deep down when the waves are so strong that the wind will continually be knocked out of me, and the darkness so thick that barely a sliver of light will find a way in.

Over time, I’ve learned that therapy, medication, honest conversations and loving support from family members and friends, as well as prayer, help me get through these periods. And yet, I still struggle to accept that support when I need it most. I want to engage in the things that I know will help because I long to escape the darkness when it comes. But relying on these tools also feels like an admittance that mental illness is a real part of me. And that’s a hard thing to admit, not only because of pride and stubbornness, but because it makes me wonder, will mental illness always be a part of me? Will I ever fully overcome this affliction this side of heaven? And if not, how do I keep living in hope, moving forward, and striving for holiness all the same?  


I have found powerful answers to those questions in the lives of the saints. For it is there that we see God call people with imperfect lives to spread his perfect love, time and again. Saint Teresa of Calcutta experienced an incredibly long spiritual darkness during which she felt abandoned by God. Saint Bernadette was physically sick for most of her life. In beloved Saint Therese’s writing, there are hints that she suffered periods of anxiety and scrupulosity, a pathological preoccupation with sin. 

The lives of these saints and so many others are gifts to us—examples of how God uses broken, suffering, and troubled people to do incredible things. Their lives are proof that God can overcome anything with his love.


And even while he was spreading the good news of Christ’s salvation, Saint Paul also continued to suffer from an affliction. He never disclosed what afflicted him, but we know that it troubled him so greatly that he asked God to remove it three times. In his wisdom and love, God chose not to, knowing that it would benefit Paul’s character and that it had a purpose. Instead, he told Paul that he would provide more grace and supply more power to help him in his weakness. 

The lives of these saints and so many others are gifts to us—examples of how God uses broken, suffering, and troubled people to do incredible things. Their lives are proof that God can overcome anything with his love. Not because these saints were all relieved of their afflictions here on earth; in fact, for the most part, they were not. But because God and his perfect, powerful love can take something seemingly bad and use it for good, all while carrying our crosses with us along the way.  

While driving the other night, I felt those familiar waves approaching and darkness looming. I knew that I was on my way to a full-blown panic attack, and the tears came so thick that I had to pull over. I struggled to pray, frustrated that I felt so far from God. Suddenly, five words came into my mind: You are the same God.

You are the same God. No matter what comes, no matter what afflicts us, and no matter what we feel, with hope let us choose to say: God, You are the same God, today, yesterday, and always—my strength, my consolation, my everything. 


I repeated them over and over as a rudimentary but heartfelt prayer, and in that moment, it sunk in—not just in my head, but in my heart—that God is the same God, even if an affliction seems to change who we are. God is always with us just the same, and always loving us just the same, even when we don’t feel close to him or feel surrounded by his love. Because his presence and love are not contingent on us feeling them; they just are. And who he is, and what he is—our strength, our consolation, our everything—that never changes.

Whether you are also afflicted by mental illness or not, I know that you struggle sometimes too, sister. I know that you have crosses in your life; we all do. When the heaviness threatens to overcome you, I pray that you can trust that you are not alone. Trust that God is with you every step of the way. Even if he feels very far away or you doubt that he is there at all, courageously let these words become your prayer and declaration of faith: You are the same God. No matter what comes, no matter what afflicts us, and no matter what we feel, with hope let us choose to say: God, You are the same God, today, yesterday, and always—my strength, my consolation, my everything. 

Love, 

Allison


About

Hi, I’m Allison! My husband, two kids, and I recently moved from Northern Virginia to the Philly ‘burbs. I met my husband during college at Notre Dame, and we’ve been married for almost eleven years. I also returned to my faith at Notre Dame, first prompted by visits to the grotto. My husband would pray for us, and slowly, my heart softened and opened up to God. Nothing has been the same since, in the best way.

I was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with my son, and the Holy Spirit worked in incredibly powerful ways during that time. It was the scariest period of my life, and yet, I felt closer to God than ever. I’ve loved sharing my story on the Jennifer Fulfiller Show, through my writing online, and at local churches, because I don’t want to keep how God brought joy amidst great sorrow to myself! I wish that every single person could experience what I did during that time, because I truly think it would change the world.

I’m grateful to be able to write for Take Up & Read Scripture studies and to sell my inspirational photography prints in my Etsy shop, Be Not Afraid Prints, while I stay home with my kids. Other than being with friends and family, I’m happiest while worshipping God through song, drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, standing by the ocean, or driving in the car with the windows down and good music playing.


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